Sistr speaks to Resham Kotecha about running for Parliament. What are the barriers she believes put women off becoming MPs? Which factors affect women becoming MPs? How can they be turned into positive reasons to enter politics?
Let’s start on a high note. Resham is a huge advocate of women in politics. Having stood for Parliament twice, she’s determined to make it third time lucky. When Resham speaks her energy and passion radiate through our chat. She speaks passionately about having the ability to put your thoughts into action. And yet in another breath, acknowledges that there are barriers for women; there is no point pretending there aren’t.
Let’s look at those barriers and knock them down.
Who the heck knows every policy there is to know? Ask any MP on minor details and they’ll stumble at some point on something along the way. However, men think they can do a better job regardless of whether they know policy. Women, on the other hand, will count themselves out if they don’t think they have all the knowledge.
How can we change that? Resham addresses this by stating that anyone can learn policy. You do not need to be reliant on it. What you cannot learn is communication skills, empathy, and the ability to listen. These are the skills needed to serve your community. Women hold themselves back if they don’t know every policy but let’s look at it from another angle.
You already know more than you think. If you’re a parent you’ll probably know about education policy to some extent. Do you work? Then you’ll probably have some knowledge and be affected by tax and working rights policy. Have you owned a house and made changes? Perhaps you’ll have explored local planning policy. There you go, you know more than you realise! Anyone can learn and that learning can help a lot of people.
Relatability – You Can’t Be What You Can’t See
How many women can you count who you regularly see on TV who are in the world of Politics? Very few. Despite there being the largest representation of women in politics around the world (24.3%) and the highest in the UK Parliament (a whopping 220 women at an all-time high of 34%) you still see very few women on TV. So you have a situation where as young girls grow up the chances of considering Politics as a career are slim as there is no one to relate to.
Resham stresses that this creates a self-serving cycle where we as women, don’t think Politics is a place for us. Children need visuals, someone they can see and go “I want to be like that person”. In visualising, it changes the impact on what we think we can do.
Can this change? Certainly, the stats are there and on the increase in terms of women who can be seen as role models. Educational Outreach Programmes are being run at national and regional levels enabling Politics to be heard and engaged with more easily.
This attribute is one of the most important skills Resham has learned during her experience in Politics and one where many women (and men for that matter) fall.
On the campaign trail you are doing letter drops at 5 am, relentless media interviews, live meetings with live social media streams (and hence live trolls sitting in the audience). It is not for the faint-hearted. But Resham thrives on this. You can make a change, not just impacting one person, but impacting a whole country. A whole demographic can be influenced or affected by a policy that you might have driven. It’s a life-defining moment. When you think about it from that perspective, it makes it all the more worthwhile.
Fear of Failure
If you lose a seat it’s a very public failure in Politics. Results are announced publicly and usually to a room of constituents baying for someone’s blood. Resham explains that it’s important to compartmentalise your emotions. You need a strong network around you who can make you realise you still matter. This is where women, a network of fellow women candidates, or women within your inner circle are invaluable. A group of women backing each other is an unrivaled strength and something women need to remember. You have to fail to learn the lessons that make you more impressive.
Training and mentoring play a huge role in overcoming a fear of failure. Initiatives such as Women2Win have been established to increase women’s participation in Conservative Party Politics by mentoring and coaching.
Would Resham stand again after 2 defeats? Absolutely is the clear answer, best thing she’s ever done. The skills learned along the way have proved invaluable and life-changing. The mentors and contacts met along the way have proved inspiring and crucial. Can women get on a level pegging with men in Politics? The barriers are there but perhaps we as women need to remove them, remove the mental barriers that tell us it’s not right for women to pursue it. It is right, it is possible and we are cheering for you Resham!