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Women Should Bring Their Whole Selves to the Table, Says Congresswoman Doris Matsui

Women are more prepared than anyone else, says Congresswoman Doris Matsui. For what? Name it.

Women take on many roles in their lives. When they’re not breaking glass ceilings, they’re managing households, taking on the majority of caregiving, and embedding themselves in their communities.

Historically, they haven’t had much choice, but it’s these kinds of roles that make women uniquely suited to be leaders. And it’s why they’re making remarkable progress.

“It’s not because we’re women. It’s because we’re dedicated public servants,” says Matsui, speaking at the inaugural CalPERS Pathways for Women event in August.

She herself is a long-time public servant but hadn’t always planned it that way. She has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for the city of Sacramento since 2005, where she champions issues like climate change, health care, access to technology, and the arts.

Though Matsui is proud to represent a state where 60% of newly elected lawmakers are women, she says we still have work to do in Congress as a whole, where women only comprise about one-quarter of the U.S. Legislature.

“Having other women in power and as your colleagues certainly helps out a great deal,” says Matsui. Seeing leaders like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is especially inspiring to newer members of Congress. “They’re not alone, ever.” Matsui says women lawmakers constantly offer to guide and collaborate with one another, lifting each other up whenever possible.

Advice for Women Just Starting Out

“Speak up, and early on,” says Matsui, when asked what advice she has for women early in their careers. When you’re in a meeting with mostly men, communicate your ideas early. Don’t wait until it’s too late and all topics have been covered.

She even takes it a step further. If someone later restates her idea or tries to take credit, she makes sure to say, “I’m really glad you agree with me. I think it’s great.” That simple yet assertive statement keeps her voice heard.

Matsui also recalls wise words from Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court: “The first step to being in power is being visible to others. Then go for it.”

Women Are Crucial to the Economy

Because women wear so many hats—at work, at home, in the community—it’s critical that we support their success. Without their contributions, the economy suffers.

The global pandemic has placed an outsized burden on women. One in four women are considering leaving their job or taking on less responsibility at work, versus one in five men, in large part because women also shoulder the greater burden of unpaid care. At the current rate, global GDP growth in 2030 could be $1 trillion lower than if women’s employment tracked men’s.

“We are losing in the economy if we don’t support women to the greatest degree,” says Matsui, whose colleagues are working to earmark childcare spending and tax cuts for families with children.

We’re In This Together

In the face of major challenges, it shouldn’t be any one group’s burden to bear. We need to signal to everyone that we’re in this together, she says. Everyone has to pitch in.

“It’s up to all of us to support groups that are trying to move forward. Bring them in,” says Matsui, who views the country like a mosaic—each tiny piece makes the whole thing stronger. “We cannot leave anyone behind.”

That includes our whole selves.