Almost 900 jobs up for grabs in summer 2014 

These are unprecedented times for our country and our economy. As people respond to personal challenges, we are hearing so many interesting stories of individuals taking opportunities now to pursue completely different careers. People are now in jobs they first thought about 20 years ago, or dreamt about as adolescents or doing something they see as a complete career change. There will be almost 900 jobs up for grabs in summer 2014. These jobs will be available in every city, town and village around the country. And a new organisation is trying to ensure that women in particular get the training, advice and support to apply for those jobs.

The local elections will be called in summer 2014, just two short years away and I spent last Saturday in the Clarion Hotel in Cork where Women for Election ran their Inspire Programme. They want to ensure that women around the country dust off their cvs, polish their skills, get the necessary training and get inspired to think about a different kind of career and consider politics.

The low number of women opting for politics as a career is obvious but it is shocking to realise that there is now an incredibly high level of women in Dáil Éireann. Yes, 25 of the 166 of the TDs elected are women and that is the highest number of women in the sitting in the Dáil Chamber in the history of the state. It is only a 5% increase in the last 35 years – incredibly slow progress.  These figures show that Ireland is failing to use its most vital resource: its people. Women, 52% of the population, make up just 15% of elected representatives.

The talent, skills and experience of so many women is being excluded as our country’s future is decided. There is universal acknowledgement that balanced participation by women and men in political decision-making leads to more representative and effective democracies; and better and more inclusive societies. Better for the country and our economy. Yet women just are not applying for the job. And because so many job vacancies are coming up so soon Women for Election want to make sure that the electorate has a choice of whether to vote for a female candidate.

What I heard at the Inspire Programme is that the time for talking is over and Women for Election are getting down to training candidates for the job of work ahead. According to the best international research, women face specific challenges when thinking of running for election. Issues around cash, confidence, childcare, candidate selection, culture predominate and Women for Election is focused on helping women address these issues. As one of the trainers at the event said, ‘women should be looking at challenges to getting elected as speed bumps rather than barriers.’

Speaking to Women for Election co-founders Niamh Gallagher and Michelle O’Donnell Keating after the event, I was interested to hear what was motivating them to get women to consider politics as a career. They told me that they were meeting women from all over the country with the abilities to run for election who they feel just need a bit of a push to consider politics as a career. They want women to focus on their experience and how they can contribute to politics. The real message from the day was that women have the skills and talents to run. They have skills in organisation and communication, they are passionate about affecting their families and communities and they have a great capacity for hard work.

Trainers on the Inspire Programme provided practical support and advice on building confidence, planning a campaign and communicating a message. The level of debate and discussion was really interesting and there were clear indications of an impressive ability in the room from women of all ages and all backgrounds.

Participants also heard from Minister of State Kathleen Lynch about how reluctant she was to run for the first time and how shocked she was to win by 4 votes. We heard from local TD Áine Collins about how to build a team and develop a plan. It was great to hear the inspirational stories of these women who have gone before – applied successfully for the job of elected representative, and in Minister Lynch’s case lost the job before getting it back again.

Minister Kathleen Lynch told the group that in politics you must want to change someone else’s world – not your own. Women for Election are working to inspire that change.

Women for Election have completed Inspire Programmes in Dublin and Cork and are heading to Galway on the 16th of June and back to Dublin on the 7th of July.  Any women looking for a career change who think that politics might be for them should email or see for more information.

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