When Kathleen Rice ran for New York attorney general in 2010 as the sole female candidate, the New York Times asked her press secretary what kind of shoes Rice wore.
She questioned if the opposing candidates were asked the same question and pointedly refused to answer the question. Similar questions were asked about how she campaigned wearing high heels all day while being feminine and assertive.
She also was required to submit a 10-page resume while male candidates only had to submit a one-page resume. “It was absolutely absurd and ridiculous. I was far more accomplished than almost every single one of them, but I had to prove it; they did not,” said Rice, United States Representative for New York’s 4th Congressional District.
Rice discussed the various sexist attacks she has experienced in her career on the recent CLE webinar, “Campaigning While Female: Congresswoman Kathleen Rice Speaks On Gender And Diversity Issues Facing Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris.”
“No one has ever asked Bill Clinton how are you going to run for president and take care of Chelsea at the same time,” said Rice.
Terri Mazur, chair of the Women in Law Section, moderated the discussion. She said, “the vice-presidential candidates opened up quite a public discussion and obviously even more now that Senator Harris has been made the Democratic nominee for vice president. I think there is heightened awareness about how women are perceived, treated and scrutinized as viable candidates for office.”
Rice said, “To this day, there is so much conscious and unconscious bias facing women in leadership roles. It is critical that we continue to work together and keep making progress on women’s equality. It is our duty to ensure that the barriers and obstacles I faced over the past 30 years are not faced by future generations of women. That’s why I’m committed to supporting women in public office and encouraging women to run for public office.”
“We currently have the highest representation of women in Congress in history, yet it is only 23% of Congress, in a country where women make up more than half of the majority. We have much more work to do,” said Rice. “Sadly, women still are repeatedly met with sexist and racist comments. These remain barriers for women achieving leadership positions.”
“This is something, we women lawyers, sadly confront on a regular basis,” Mazur said.
She noted that the percentage of equity partners in law firms is around the same as the percentage of women in Congress. “It’s still a very poor representation of women in leadership roles across professions,” she said.
Rice has run in nearly 10 races from Nassau County District Attorney to Congress. “In every single race I have run in my career, there is no question that there has been sexism. Women still face the same barriers and they are predictable ones. Until women are 51 percent of fill-in-the-blank, lawyers, doctors, teachers, CEOs, senators, presidents, we are still going to be dealing with these issues,” Rice said.
She said that women lag behind men professionally “for a whole host of historical reasons.” Chief among them are not having the financial infrastructure to run for office and not having the professional contacts “because we haven’t been in the workforce in this country for as long as men have,” she said.
One of 10 children who had to work for everything, Rice struggled initially to ask donors for money. “I almost passed out,” Rice said. “I can’t ask a stranger for money. But you get used to it.”
She learned that “women have to be different asking for money.” She said that “men are used to giving money to men. Men are not used to giving money to women. Most of the big political donors are men; we need women to be in positions to contribute at a higher rate than they are doing right now.”
Rice believes that Sen. Harris is dealing with the same issues now that she did in 2010. “We all have to defend Kamala Harris regardless of what your politics are. This is a really great opportunity to support Kamala Harris. We have to reject outright any attempt by the establishment so to speak to pigeonhole women to try to keep them in our place.”
Mazur asked Rice if the attacks deterred women from running for office. “It absolutely does,” said Rice. “You have to have a really thick skin. Every mistake you ever made in your life is held against you, unlike men.”
When asked in 2010 if she had ever taken drugs, Rice answered honestly and quickly asked her sister to take the paper from her father’s doorstep so he couldn’t read her answer. She said admitting mistakes and moving on is essential. “People appreciate that kind of honesty and will reward you for it in the end.”
Rice credited her success to her mother, who imparted on her, “that you can be anything you want to be.” When she became district attorney, I said I want to be “that mentor for all those women who can’t get ahead because they want to have a family too.”
“It is really, really important not only to find yourself a mentor, but for women who are halfway up that ladder, don’t forget, turn around and look at those woman that you have to help up the ladder behind you. Don’t wait until you hit the pinnacle or the top of the ladder,” said Rice. “You have to help all the women behind you as you’re going up the ladder yourself. It is important for people to see people who look like them in positions they want to have.”