Berkeley politicians speak on their experiences as women in politics

Emma Rooholfada/Staff

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Four city of Berkeley politicians discussed their experiences as women in politics during the UC Berkeley Women in Politics panel held Thursday in the ASUC Senate chambers.

The event was co-hosted by the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President, or EAVP, the office of ASUC Senator Haazim Amirali and the Berkeley National Organization for Women. The four local political figures — City Council members Sophie Hahn, Susan Wengraf and Kate Harrison, as well as City Auditor Jenny Wongdiscussed the obstacles women face in politics and offered advice for those interested in pursuing a career in the field.

“It’s basically to encourage … women to see how it’s like to be a politician,” said Ruchi Shah, voter programs manager for the EAVP’s office, who also served as an emcee at the panel. “That’s why this year, I decided to invite the Berkeley City Council members — the women especially — to come out here and speak to students and give them some more insight about their experiences.”

During the panel, speakers addressed disparities in confidence levels between men and women. Wong cited statistics indicating that women only apply for jobs when they are 100% qualified, while men apply when they are 60% qualified. Hahn added that women need to stop questioning their qualifications.

Another issue the panelists addressed was the relevance of beauty standards for female public figures.

“We put a lot of burdens on ourselves about our looks. We wear uncomfortable shoes, we do things that are going to be difficult for us, we wear clothes they’re hard to work in. I’ve given up on that, I just decided, that’s it,” Harrison said during the panel discussion. “What I have to offer is my passion for this job and my experience and my love of the people of Berkeley — and the rest of it is just going to have to be irrelevant.”

In response to a question about women standing out during political campaigns, Wengraf emphasized the importance of avoiding responding to attacks from opponents.

“You do not attack your opponent,” Wengraf said during the panel discussion. “You just run on your strengths.”

When she received negative mail during the 2018 elections, Harrison said she focused on the issues instead of engaging.

Toward the end of the discussion, Hahn encouraged students to reach out.

“I think we all would love to speak with any of you as individuals, whether… it’s for a long-term membership or just a coffee or a lunch, to answer your questions to encourage you, to help you, to see if we have internships for you,” Hahn said at the panel discussion. “I certainly would welcome anytime, your outreach and would love to get to know you better.”

Contact Emma Rooholfada at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.