As women around the world rally to celebrate International Women's Day, I will be surrounded by courageous and committed women and men who are helping me get elected to Congress. We share a common goal: to raise women's voices to expand women's choices.
Countries like Germany and South Korea are led by women like Prime Minister Angela Merkel and President Park Guen-Hye, and the U.S. is perhaps closer than ever before to have a woman in the White House. But our Congress lags far behind countries like Rwanda, where 64% of the Parliament is female. In Cuba, women represent 49% of their congress. Today, in the U.S. women represent only 20% of the House of Representatives and Senate. Even Afghanistan has better numbers.
My own race for Congress showcases the problems with the pipeline. In a field of 9 candidates in the Democratic primary, only 2 are women. Each time we gather at a candidates' forum, we look out into audiences where women dominate, and yet our own numbers are not much better than the U.S. Congress. More surprisingly, women will likely represent 60% of the voters in the April 26th election.
This gender gap is something I've encountered my entire career and changing the narrative animates my candidacy for Congress. When I started my career in journalism in 1975, the mostly-male newsrooms in Washington, DC were eager to recruit women. This presented tremendous opportunities in my early career where I rose quickly from writer, to producer, to on-air reporter and news anchor at the ABC-7 affiliate in the nation's capital. But women were still forging new territory as they navigated their careers and started families. I was able to spotlight some of the struggles and barriers, including my own as I raised three children, in a nationally syndicated TV show I hosted called Working Woman. Today journalism is one of the most integrated workplaces based on gender.
In 2006, I had the opportunity to reinvent myself in a business career when CEO Bill Marriott recruited me to Marriott International as the company's executive vice-president for global communications and public affairs. Initially, I was the only woman reporting to the CEO, and was eager to see more women in leadership roles, whether it was on the senior executive team or company Board of Directors. Women also looked to me to help open the doors of opportunity, and today Marriott is a role model for other companies with women representing 40% of the senior team and corporate board. While I was an agitator, the change was a team endeavor.
Outside the company, I looked for ways to empower women by working with non-profits to train and hire women to work in hotels and source from women-owned businesses as part of the company's global procurement. In Rwanda, Marriott partnered with the Akilah Institute to hire dozens of young women to train for hotel careers. They worked for 2-3 years in the company's hotels in Dubai , and are now ready to return to Rwanda for leadership roles in the new Marriott hotel that will soon open in Kigali. Working with WeConnect International, we hosted women's business networking programs in Europe, China, and Latin America to identify women who could supply goods and services as part of the company's supply chain. Through Vital Voices, I participated in global mentoring programs in South Africa with women from around the continent who will be future leaders in industry and government. And in Haiti, as Marriott opened a new hotel last year, we looked for local women as team leaders and sourced from women-owned farms.
Now as a candidate, I am indebted to women from Maryland and around the world like Oumoul Diallo from West Africa and Alice Villafana from Trinidad who are volunteering their time on weekdays and weekends to go door to door to convince voters that women hold the key to breaking the gridlock that has seized Washington. If we want to get common sense gun safety, economic security for working families, and action to fight climate change, they believe we need more women at the table. And if we raise women's voices in Washington, it will echo around the globe. I agree, and am so grateful to be part of their chorus on this International Women's Day.
This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, 2016. A What's Working series, the posts address solutions tied to the United Nations' theme for International Women's Day this year: "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality." To view all of the posts in the series, click here.