Why We Need More Women In Politics, with Sarah Chamberlain
Episode 79: Why We Need More Women In Politics, with Sarah Chamberlain
Sarah Chamberlain, President and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, never thought she’d get into politics. She graduated college with the intention of starting a career in accounting, but after 20 years as the CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership, she’s right where she belongs. Sarah has learned through working with different members and different policies the importance of collaboration and coming together. In this week’s podcast Sarah discusses the evolution of political parties, the importance of women’s voices in politics and the Women2Women Conversations Tour. Sarah wants to teach the next generation of leaders that women can do anything.
00:00 Speaker 1: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business and now your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.
00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, and I'm joined by my co-host, Maricella Herrera.
00:25 Maricella Herrera: Hi, Kristy.
00:27 KW: Are you laughing at the background noises compliments of Morgan?
00:32 MH: I am, I'm laughing at the background noises compliments of Morgan and at Morgan sitting on your lap.
00:38 KW: Yes.
00:38 MH: I'm not laughing at Morgan, Morgan is adorable.
00:40 KW: So this is what work life balance looks like, sometimes the kids come to work with you and you just roll with it. So we're rolling with it.
00:48 MH: Oh, she's been great.
00:49 KW: Yes. We're having fun today and also, a great inspiration for her to see what I do everyday. I love having my kids. Benjamin, I think, has been on the podcast in the past as well and Zoe, Zoe who's two, but someday soon we'll get her on as well. But I think always great to see what mom does everyday and to include them in that, but also, to work at a place where you can bring your kids to work if you need to.
01:20 MH: Absolutely, flexibility.
01:21 KW: We're just working on it. Yeah.
01:22 MH: It's important.
01:23 KW: That is what we're fighting for, flexibility. And I also think it's important to note that they go to work with my husband quite a bit as well. So it's not just on mom's shoulders. They like going to work with dad and we bear the brunt of those days when childcare doesn't work out or if something happens. But yeah, this is part of life. So on today's podcast, this was, for me, I think... I say this every time, and I do know that I say this every time, but it was a great conversation. Man, we just have the most amazing guests. We really do. I think I just have to stop and point that out because as I'm saying, this was a great conversation. It's because we just are so fortunate to have amazing, inspirational women on the podcast but Sarah particularly, I was excited to meet her and to have a conversation because she's heavily involved in politics and not just in politics, but in the Republican party and how she can be a voice for change, a voice for action, a voice for equality. There's so much that she's doing and has been doing for 20 plus years to really be a driver in that party around how do we get both sides, having conversations that will lead to policy and change.
02:49 MH: Yeah, I'm excited for this one. I said this last week too, but it is also very different from the people we usually hear from on the podcast. And it just comes to show how amazing all of these women are, each in their own right. And it's honestly such a privilege to be part of a network where you have such great access to inspirational go getters, change makers, and really, people who are powerhouses.
03:15 KW: Absolutely, and I love my conversation with Sarah because she was very full of action. She talked a great deal about what we can do as constituents, and I love that she just came out just so clearly with some great insights into why we should run, what are the barriers to it and why we should be more involved in meeting with our representatives.
03:39 MH: That's amazing. I love it.
03:41 KW: And I know that we did have a poll along those lines as well.
03:45 MH: Yep. We did ask our community, "What action is most effective when voicing your opinion for or against policies?" 26% said it's calling our representatives, 24% said taking action in your professional life to lead by example, 19% said using your money to support causes you care about, 13% said writing to our representatives, and 12% public demonstrations protests or marches, and only 2% said writing op-eds. Seems pretty straightforward. Call your representatives. [chuckle] If you wanna make your voice heard, call them.
04:23 KW: Yeah, be involved, be informed, be active.
04:27 MH: And lead by example.
04:29 KW: Alright, and let's get to my interview with Sarah. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
04:44 KW: Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today. And I would love to start off as we typically start our podcast. But I think one of my favorite parts of every podcast is to learn a little bit more about you. What are you doing professionally and how did you get there?
05:03 Sarah Chamberlain: So, I am this President CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which consists of 75 members of the House and Senate. And I got here in an unconventional way. I've actually never taken a Poli Sci class. I'm actually a business, I'm a CPA and an MBA and the gentleman that founded the Main Street Partnership is the only Fortune 500 CEO to ever serve in Congress. His name is Amory Houghton and his family founded Corning Incorporated. And what happened is, as soon I got out of college, he said, "I'm gonna start this organization, I'd like you to come and run it." Fast forward many years. He admitted to me that he wanted me to run it because he thought I would run it as a business, as a business of politics, which is exactly what I do do. So we have... This is our 20th year and we're very proud of how far we've come and how many members we have. So that's kind of how my career started. I am in my 40s and I would tell you this is the only job I've ever had, and probably will be the only job that I ever do have. That's unusual in this day and age.
06:10 KW: Yeah, but I think when you find something that you're passionate about and particularly in what you're doing in this ever revolving and changing landscape, I'm sure it doesn't really feel like the same thing, the same job every day.
06:25 SC: No, it is never the same job. We're always working on different policy, with different members, with different donor bases. So every day... First of all when I get up in the morning, I have no idea exactly what my day is going to look like. Today it kinda got out of control, in a good way, doing many things that were not on my agenda to do. So that's why I love my job. I'm passionate about it. And every day is different. And I love my members of Congress. I have awesome members that I wish all Americans knew were here in Congress working for them.
07:02 KW: So your members of Congress, can you... Is it all Republican members of Congress or is it?
07:07 SC: Yes.
07:08 KW: Okay.
07:08 SC: We are all Republican members, but we call ourselves... We're the governing wing of the Republican party, which means we're willing to compromise just to move the ball forward. I'm sure everybody would like 100% of everything, but realistically, you can't usually get that. So we're happy to get a good piece of it, move it forward and then fight for whatever we didn't get in the next round. So that's what makes us different than some of the Republican Party.
07:34 KW: And can you share just a little bit more about the Republican Main Street Partnership, some of the issues that you're working on, and really how you work with your members to tie into local communities and constituents.
07:48 SC: Sure, we have six full committee chairmen. We have 24 sub committee chairs, so we have a lot of power in the house especially, and we work on everything from... Today, I was working on a bill called the Fit Bill, which allows you to use your spending accounts, your house spending accounts to pay for your fitness dues in a fitness club. Worked on that, worked on appropriations legislation, and then, talked about tax reform today. So that was just in one day. Yesterday morning, we had our discussion about FAA reauthorization which leads into transportation, spending in transportation legislation. So every day there's a different bill. There's a different topic that we talk about, many times two or three in a day, but we are working on all the big pieces of legislation that media is covering. The transportation, the funding for the natural disaster in Texas and the one that's currently going on in Florida, working on that. We're working on transportation. We need to have safe bridges, roads, better airports. And then of course, the big one that we've been spending a lot of time at is tax reform. We feel strongly that if we have a good tax reform package that we can get the economy working even better than it currently is.
09:12 KW: That's unbelievable. Do you feel like you have an honorary law degree as well?
09:17 SC: I do, I do. And it was funny, I was briefing a member of Congress as I was coming. I'm like, "Well, legally, you can't do this, you can do that." And she just laughed. I'm like, "Okay, the other members don't understand this. I'll talk to them about it, but here's what you can do legally." So yes, my lawyer kind of laughed. He's like, "I've taught you well." I'm like, "Yes, yes, you have." Because I have to, because the other part of my job is not only to talk about legislation, but also to protect the members. I never want the members even close to the line. So I have to have knowledge of legality issues to make sure they don't fall into any traps, inadvertently. So that's what I was doing today.
10:00 KW: Have you always been passionate about politics?
10:02 SC: No. I'd never taken a Poli Sci class in my entire life. I am typically, I was the nerdy accountant, almost with the pocket protector kind of thing, had no interest in running a political organization. I wanted to be an accountant and then eventually be a professor, maybe at Villanova, but somewhere in either Pennsylvania or New York, and when Amory Houghton approached me and asked me to do this, I'm like, "I'll give you six months." I'm celebrating my 20th year. So I've become very passionate about politics because I understand that politics affects every person's life. And that is one thing that I don't think the American people understand, what happens here in Washington affects your life in a day to day basis.
10:48 KW: Have you seen an evolutionary change over the past 20 years in the public's access to information around policy or engagement in policy? And I ask this question, I'll give you a quick back story is I grew up in a tiny town in New Jersey. And so when I was growing up, it was the local newspaper, it was the local news station, and all of my information came from that, and it was a bit partisan and skewed. In hindsight, I see that, but I would love your insight because you do this every day. Have you seen the public's engagement around politics, and policy, and issues, and elections and just their even understanding and knowledge around this evolving?
11:35 SC: Sure. Like you, I'm from a small town upstate New York, Western New York and I grew up reading our local newspaper and our local member of Congress talking, and that was basically the extent to what I knew. Came to DC on trips a few times with my parents. Now, with the Internet, with the 24/7 news cycles, people have access to a lot of the happenings in DC and some of it is factual, some of it is not factual. I'm not saying that media... It's all fake media because it's not true. But the reality is it's skewed depending upon what TV station you watch now and we've become much more polarized.
12:14 SC: So that's the biggest thing I've seen in the 20 years at Main Street is... And early on Republicans, Democrats talked to each other, often times they moved their families to DC, so the kids went to school together, the wives or the husbands, whomever was not the member, hung out together. You're not seeing that today. As soon as... And Newt Gingrich changed this when he came on as the speaker, I'm not saying it's better or worse. It's just factual. When he came on, he told the members that they should go home every weekend. So most of the families live at home, some know each other, some don't, but you don't have the across the aisle real relationships that you've had in the past. Main Street members do try to get to know the Democratic colleagues as well, but that's a real issue and that's how it's changed and the polarization of the country continues to get worse and worse.
13:09 KW: Do you think there is a way where we can move back together?
13:17 SC: I certainly hope so. I think that the country, probably the majority of the country would like to see us working closer, working a little bit better together, especially tackling some of the huge issues that are faced in the country, North Korea, for example. Obviously, they do have... They're a nuclear country now. How are we gonna deal with that? Some other issues that are happening. And I think you'll see us come together on the flood relief and those things. But it would be nice if we could come together on transportation and come together on tax reform. So eventually we may, I certainly hope so. But getting back to the media question, media is not covering it. There is a committee, it's called Energy and Commerce Committee. Fred Upton chaired it last cycle, a gentleman by the name of Greg Walden chairs it now. It's the most bipartisan committee in the House of Representatives. They do a lot of things. Last year, they did what's called the 21st Century Cures, very bipartisan piece of legislation. It's more money into NIH to fund research for Alzheimer's and some other illnesses that we feel strongly that we're very close to being able to cure. Nobody knows what that is, though it could save your life someday and that's the problem. The media, it wasn't sexy, it wasn't controversial and it didn't get covered.
14:36 SC: We also did at Main Street, and also in a bipartisan way, the first mental health bill done in our lifetimes. The last mental health bill that was done, was done by JFK. It was signed, last piece of the legislation he signed before he got the airplane to fly to Dallas. That's the last time. We did it. Nobody knows we did this, and that too was signed last year. It was tied to the 21st Century Cures legislation. So we are doing some really great, hopefully, life saving things and unfortunately, it's just not breaking through so the American people know that that's happening. We're also doing some great things around opioid abuse and we have a current bipartisan bill called the STOP Act, that a lot of... When you go online and order, you think you're ordering it from a pharmaceutical company or a pharmacy in Canada but you have no idea where it's really coming from. It's coming through the United State Postal Service with no tracking, unlike UPS and FEDEX and the other shippers, when you go to a postal service anywhere in the world, you can just drop a package in and say, "See you." So, when it arrives at your home, you have no idea where it's from. If the Fentanyl, or whatever is in the package, is actually the real thing. And so, we have bipartisan legislation hoping to close that loophole, so at least you know where it's coming from me.
16:00 KW: Thank you for your work. And this is what we hope to accomplish with the podcast, is being able to get these messages out there and information like this. So I appreciate you sharing that with us.
16:13 SC: That's why I love my job. Right there, is why I really love Main Street.
16:19 KW: So Sarah, you are the only woman in the country who currently leads a major Republican organization. Do you think that the men are saying, "Okay. We need a woman here as well." Is that because they truly see the value of that diversity of thought?
16:36 SC: 100%. 100%.
16:38 KW: Okay. And it's not like a...
16:39 SC: It's not because... We are not token women. If you meet me, I'm not a token woman to them. I actually am like, "Okay, this is what we're doing. This is how we're gonna do it," da, da, da, da, da. I'm not the token woman in the room. Often times I may be the only woman in the room, but I'm also running the discussion. So it's just an awareness of, "Oh, okay. We need to add a woman." And that's really key for them. And again, they never were opposed to doing it because I have always run Main Street and obviously I'm a woman. And I'm very used to truly running Main Street and talking to them and running the board meetings with the members and they just never thought of it before. They all have wives and daughters and none of them are opposed to having women in leadership, it's just they didn't think of it. So, this time, like last night, it was like, "Okay. We need to have a woman. Like, hello, we need a woman. Who do you suggest should be the woman with us? With us at the table as our equal, not as the token woman that we're just adding."
17:46 KW: That's great. And that's so reassuring to hear because I think the more we have men... And as statistics show men, they hold the majority of elected positions and they're running the majority of public companies. The more we have men that are advocating for women, the sooner we will get to that gender parity. And so, it's great to hear that that's your experience and that's what you're seeing, because I think that says a lot for where we can go as a country towards parity. You're also a vocal supporter, and advocate for women to get more involved in the political process. And I would love your thoughts on why are we not seeing more women running for office, but then what can we do to encourage, to support more women in that process?
18:46 SC: So women, we have a few issues. First of all, if you give a woman 10 reasons or 10 qualifications to run for Congress, they'll look and say, "I only have eight, I can't do this." You give a man the same list, if they got one of the qualifications, they're in. So it's a very different mindset. We feel we have to check all the boxes. A man does not feel that way.
19:11 SC: It's hard for a woman. Funding is different. We do not write the checks. Women are not the primary funders in this country, and we have to stop that. And even if it's $5, send the $5 to the candidate or to the member of Congress. Get engaged, because the more you're engaged, the more you're going to follow what's happening and supporting your local member or not supporting your local member. Obviously, I'm not actually a member of Congress, but from what the female members tell me when they're running, they go in and talk, unfortunately, they said, mostly to a man. They'll go in, the man will grill them on their policy. "How do you feel about the A, B, C, and D?" And then, they may walk out with a $1,000 check. A man will come in behind them, and instead of being grilled on their policy, they'll talk about the latest football score, or baseball score or whatever season you're in, and they'll walk out with a $2,700 check. We have to stop doing that. As women we have to get engaged in helping to fund the candidates that we believe in and talk to our husbands about it.
20:19 SC: If the husbands are the ones writing the check, make sure that your husband's not the one that's doing that to the woman that's coming in. Once the women are elected members, it changes, they're on equal playing field. But women, we have to do it, and it doesn't matter if we don't check all 10 of the qualifications, we have to be engaged. The country would run better with more women involved in the House and the Senate.
20:47 KW: Sarah, are you going to run? Have you thought about running?
20:51 SC: I actually... I'll share a very personal story. Yes, I was. And I have a district and I had the opportunity, and I was asked, and my husband, about three weeks later was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we have a little girl, so I did not do it. And I've since lost my husband. So right now it's not the right time. I love Main Street, I'm passionate about Main Street, and I still have a little girl at home, so it just doesn't work. Someday, maybe. I'd like to. That's still on my bucket list of things to do, but I've just put it off a few years.
21:27 KW: I hope you do. I think your passion, your knowledge, and insights would serve your district and our country very well. And I've made it my personal mission, whenever I'm speaking with women who inspire me, to ask them if they're gonna run. 'Cause we each do our part, and how can we get that thought going and that confidence going in the women around us.
21:53 SC: Well, thank you. Appreciate that.
21:56 KW: So you created Women2Women Conversations as a way to bring Main Street's congresswomen together with bipartisan gathering of women around the country. And I would love to hear more about that program.
22:08 SC: Sure. So the Women2Women tour started about two and a half years ago and, you'll laugh, we go out and talk to real women who do not live in the bubble of DC and talk about what issues are important to them. What are they talking about around their dinner table? I'll never forget. We were in Indiana and a woman brought up opioid abuse, and the two elected members to Congress, females on the stage, we looked at each other and were like, "What is that?" We had no idea what that was. Obviously, you gotta live under a rock today to not know that we have a huge opioid abuse problem in this country.
22:43 SC: So why we travel the country is we learn things, we know what's going on out there. Then we can come back, introduce and pass legislation, that we then go back to them and say, "Listen, we took your idea, your concept, whatever it is, and we were able to pass legislation and hopefully improve upon your problem and help your family." Because really, in DC, that's really what we're supposed to be doing. We're supposed to be helping the American people, and learning what their needs are and their concerns are really goes a long way in being able to do that.
23:16 SC: Mental health was the same thing. The mental health bill had been laying here dormant for a few years. We were on tour and everybody we talked to either has a mental health problem within their family, or knows someone who has a mental health problem. So I said, "Look, we need legislation." And again, it wasn't 100%, it was the first bite. We're going back for more bites of that apple. But it was something. And now we can tell the American people, "Yes, if your child or your spouse or your parent, whomever that individual is, if there's attempted suicide or whatever, instead of being in the emergency room of the hospital because there are no mental health beds, we've now added more mental health beds across the country, which actually is actually a cost saving at the same time. So it's kind of a win-win situation. But more importantly, instead of you're a person who has a mental problem, laying there in an emergency room, they then are in a ward where they're getting the therapy that they need. The meds they need. Whatever they need. And instead of paying $180 for the ER bed, we're paying $150 for the mental health bed, where they're also getting the services. In emergency room they just lay there. There are no services.
24:35 SC: So that's the first bite, as again, we're gonna go back and take many more bites. But that's just the first thing that we could begin to talk about. So that's why I love this tour. We get to actually come back and affect their lives, and hopefully improve upon their lives, because the men and women of Main Street, that is why they're here. There's a lot of reasons why people go into politics, but the men and women of Main Street actually go into politics to be public servants, and they're not the ones that you're seeing on TV. They're not the household names. They're just the men and women that are trying to do and pass legislation that affects our lives and hopefully improves our lives.
25:14 KW: And I appreciate so much you sharing those stories because it shows the impact, that we as individual, can have on policy and on the world. If you speak up, if you engage with your elected representatives around the issues you care about, you can really see how change can happen and how policy and legislation can come from you being actively engaged in that dialogue.
25:41 SC: You're right, and the thing that... For some reason, we vote for these men and women in our districts, and then we forget, they work for us. We need to have context. We need to give them our opinions and ask them for help. They're actually... They work for us. They're our representation in here in Washington, and what I have found, and one woman, she was actually a hairdresser doing my hair, and I told her what we were doing, and she said, "Women like me don't attend events like that." I'm like, "Absolutely, they do." And I said, "You get your friends and you sit down in the front row and I'll introduce you to the Members of Congress." Because what we do at these events is we talk first, we interact with them at the cocktail reception. There is no fanfare, we're not introduced to the stage and come out. We sit there. I greet them at the door. The Members of Congress are in the room talking with them. We get to know them as women, because obviously we're women as well, and really relax them.
26:40 SC: And the woman who did my hair, as she left she said, "That's a great event." And she said, "Wow." I said, "We're real people. We just have different jobs, but never forget that they work for you." And that's what we're not doing. For some reason, we get intimidated by them and don't realize that and forget that. And so we're here to remind women that, "You know what? We are public servants, and we have to know what your needs are and concerns are so we can make them better."
27:10 KW: Well, thank you so much, Sarah. Thank you for everything that you've shared today. For sharing your stories and for sharing your insights. How old is your daughter?
27:18 SC: She is now 13.
27:20 KW: Oh, my goodness.
27:22 SC: She too, now she's like, "I think maybe I'll grow up and go into politics." I'm like, "Oh God." I'm like, "Okay." But what's fascinating about having a daughter over a son is she watches us and her best friend told her, "Well, you know, women can't run things." And she looked at her and she said, "My mom is a CEO. She runs everything. I've been to work there." So women can do whatever we want. So I think that's important to be training the next generation that women can do whatever they want, plus have families. We can do it all.
27:52 KW: Right. Yeah, we can. You and I are both doing it so...
27:56 SC: And our daughters will too, hopefully.
27:58 KW: Yeah. No, I know that they will. I've really enjoyed speaking with you and thank you for your time on the podcast today.
28:06 SC: Thank you, Kristy. I appreciate it and anything else you need to know, just let me know.
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