The last time it was declared “The Year of the Woman” I was 8 years old. That year, a record-breaking four women were elected senators and 24 women as representatives to Congress. This seemed like a big accomplishment in 1992. But yet, growing up in a small, working class town in downstate Illinois, I never saw politics or government as a career. That’s in part because I couldn’t see myself, a young Latina with blue collar roots, reflected in those seats of power.
Politics and government often get a bad rap for being an old boys club where deals are made in smoke-filled rooms. While this perception isn’t quite accurate, when it comes to the diversity of people who are in these rooms, government lags far behind. In order to change that, we must empower and promote leaders that represent the full spectrum of experience of the American people.
"With Accelerator for America...infrastructure and economic security are more than roads, bridges and a paycheck, it’s about bringing development to underserved areas through Opportunity Zones and creating the training necessary for the high-tech jobs of the future."
I truly believe that the best public policy is made by the people who are most impacted by the policies themselves. That’s why it’s incredibly important to have decision makers that have similar life experiences to those that they serve. My life and where I come has shaped me into the decision maker I am today. I know what it’s like to be the first in your family to go to college, to live pay check to pay check, to have a parent who doesn’t know how they’ll pay for their cancer treatment, to have neighbors that were laid off from the local steel mill and to be discriminated against based on my race and gender. I am a better policy maker because I have experienced the things that many of the people I represent face.
That is why we need women at the table when we talk about sexual harassment, mothers when we make policies about maternity leave, low-income families when we talk about assistance programs and teachers when we talk about education. In order to achieve equity and real change in this country, we must have a chorus of diverse voices at the policymaking table.
Diversity in our elected officials doesn’t stop at race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. We also need diversity in age and need to lift up the next generation of civic leaders. The choices our elected leaders make today will directly impact the people of my generation’s future and they already have. Our elected leaders are making decisions that they won’t live to see the outcome.
In the type of work we’re doing with Accelerator for America, this perspective is incredibly important. It’s why we have leaders from the public and private sector that make up a representative cross section of what our country’s cultural identity that works together to try and tackle these issues. Infrastructure and economic security are more than roads, bridges and a paycheck, it’s about bringing development to underserved areas through Opportunity Zones and creating the training necessary for the high-tech jobs of the future.
We’ve come a long way since 1992 electing the most diverse class of Congress to date during the latest “Year of the Woman” in 2018. But there’s still a long way to go before we reach parity not just at the national level but through all levels of government. In order to get there, we must clear the smoke-filled rooms and fill them with people who the next generation can see themselves in.
Anna Valencia was sworn-in as City Clerk of Chicago on January 25, 2017 overseeing one of the largest offices in the City serving 1.2 million Chicagoans and generating more than $130 million annually.
As City Clerk, Valencia has focused on making government accessible to all Chicagoans. Under Valencia’s leadership, the Office of the City Clerk has made it a priority to find new and innovative ways to bring services directly to residents, increase civic engagement, improve inefficiencies and collaborate across government in the private and public sectors. Valencia has also been charged with implementing the Municipal ID program which will roll out later this year. Available to all Chicago residents, this government-issued ID will combine access to government and city services into one card.
Valencia serves on the Accelerator for America Advisory Council.