I was reading my local newspaper in Greenwich, Connecticut, one Sunday morning in 2009 when I came across a report that our public schools had failed to achieve a benchmark known as Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal education law called No Child Left Behind. How could this be, I thought. Greenwich is an affluent suburb with highly regarded and well-funded public schools. My own children had attended them. I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of this.
The next day, I called the superintendent of schools, just curious about what I read. My calls were not returned. Undeterred, I called the Governor at the time, Jodi Rell, who happened to be a friend of mine. No, Gov. Rell told me, the article was not mistaken – even schools in Greenwich were struggling to meet the criteria of NCLB. Education has long been a passion and priority of mine, so we continued talking. Gov. Rell soon asked me to join the Connecticut Board of Education, provide an outsider’s perspective on a panel dominated by educators. This appointment was my introduction to government service – an experience that later inspired me to seek political office of my own.
For Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, the motivation to serve her community also came from the desire to right a wrong she heard about through a news report. Local and state officials had resisted an effort by a group of high schoolers who sought to form an inclusive and affirming club for LGBTQ and straight students at their school. As an openly gay woman, she felt compelled to help.
“I’ve always known I wanted to be involved in public life,” she said. “It may have come from the fact that my parents named me after Jackie Kennedy. So what struck me most of all at that moment was the thought: What am I waiting for?”
Mayor Biskupski relayed this story as she welcomed 200 women to the Women’s Leadership LIVE event in Salt Lake City – just one of a diversity of voices and experiences in leadership highlighted at “The DIFFERENT Conference” ©. Biskupski ended up being elected to the state legislature – the first openly gay elected official in Utah – before being elected Mayor of Salt Lake City this year.
“Throughout my career I have learned a lot about women in leadership. The biggest thing I learned: women wait,” she said. “All too often, we wait for the ‘perfect time’ to move forward, to move up, to make change. I can tell you firsthand, there is never a perfect time to step up and lead. On too many issues, we can’t afford to wait for the debate and the dialogue to change. It is past time for more women to step into leadership roles.”
The United States was built on a foundation of government of the people, for the people and by the people. Leaders were to be elected by citizens, not predetermined by birthright – a philosophy considered revolutionary in the 1700s. It depended on people who were not content to wait, but to take risks, share their perspectives and make their voices heard.
I ran for the U.S. Senate because I was tired of yelling at the television, waiting for others to make a difference. I believe the interests of our country are best served by a government of citizens with a diversity of experiences and perspectives, as our founders had envisioned. But I heard a lot of questions and criticism about whether I was qualified to run. After all, I was not a career politician. I had built a business from scratch, grew it from a regional operation into a global enterprise with employees and customers around the world, took it public, and led it as CEO. Was that enough? Yes, I decided as I declared my candidacy.
Women’s Leadership LIVE encourages and supports women who are determined to share their ideas, take risks and solve problems – in business and in their communities – and applauds Mayor Biskupski for her leadership. No one who wishes to serve their fellow citizens in public office should wait for a perfect time or perfect resume. When an issue sparks a passion, don’t just yell at the television and wait for someone else to do something.
“When women move into positions of leadership,” Mayor Biskupski said, “our society gains new perspectives, which leads to new ideas, which lead to new solutions to problems. And those solutions create new opportunity for our communities to build a stronger future for everyone.”