Former Vice Presidential Candidate Mindy Finn Says There’s a Hunger for Women in Leadership

Why the election isn’t a death sentence for women, from a woman who has seen and heard a lot
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Mary Rose Somarriba
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Why the election isn’t a death sentence for women, from a woman who has seen and heard a lot
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Welcome to our interview series in partnership with Empowered Women, a nonprofit advocating for women to live a fulfilled life as they define it. We’ve teamed up to interview inspiring women who are forging their own paths and living what it means to be an empowered woman. Join us as we meet a new woman each month.

Mindy Finn is hopeful about women in politics. Coming off the campaign trail where she ran as vice president on the ticket of eleventh-hour, third-party presidential candidate Evan McMullin, Finn has a message for women: It’s not as bad out there as you think. Yes, even though we still don’t have a woman in our country’s highest office and instead have a man whose words have been less than respectful to women.

In 2015, Finn founded the bipartisan group Empowered Women to “give voice to a new generation of American women [and] celebrate women as individuals who deserve an equal opportunity to live a fulfilled life as they define it.” Her previous work for Twitter, Google, and other tech and media companies (which earned her the status as one of Washingtonian’s 100 “Tech Titans”) primed Finn to start a network to further women’s empowerment and influence in the world. No matter where one fits on the political spectrum, it’s hard not to be inspired by Finn’s resolve to stand up for her values and—whether running as VP or running her company—empower more women to have a voice. Finn spoke with us to share her thoughts about the campaign trail, sexual harassment, and how she avoids information overload.

Mary Rose Somarriba: What can you tell us about your experience as a woman on the campaign trail this year?

Mindy Finn: Overall it was an incredible experience. I have long been an advocate of people running for office generally, and in particular for more women to enter the fray, so this was a way to walk the walk. I was not seeking it out; I didn’t plan to run for vice president now or ever, but when I got the call I thought it was a very important way to have my voice out there, but also to be a voice for many others who were looking for different views and better options this election cycle.

Their vote is their voice; and while I have worked mostly in one party my entire adult life, there is definitely a sense of dissatisfaction that the candidates we served up weren’t close to the best that we could do. I felt very empowered in running and what I feel excited about and hopeful about was that I empowered many others in that they had a choice in this election. One message we had was that voting for us is a way for your vote to go further, that you’re not going to blindly accept what the main two parties served up.

MRS: What do you think about the state of women given that we still haven’t broken the presidential glass ceiling?

MF: I don’t think we should gauge our progress on women’s rights or gender equality based on one person’s presidential run. Hillary was a flawed candidate; it’s an objective view in terms of how she was viewed nationally and some of the things from her history, and she’s had challenges in the past. This is her second presidential run in which she was expected to win. So I wouldn’t pin sexism on one woman’s candidacy.

That said, there are barriers for women, and I think that’s exposed. I think less about whether a woman can be successful running and more about sexual assault and harassment, in terms of where the line is acceptable. I have greater concerns about that than whether a particular female candidate can be successful. After all, there were other female candidates who won in other areas in this election.

In my view we have more work to do to get more women to run. I've seen both sides now having run; it wasn’t as scary as it might seem. You put yourself out there, and people respect that. You do your homework and you make sure you know of what you speak. I felt very capable of being a candidate. There were not many questions as to whether being young and female changed my ability to do the job. The only time I heard that was from older male journalists who would question my credentials.

Generally we faced a lot of attacks; we had threats on our lives, attacks on our religion; I had letters sent to my home. I understand why people are wary to jump into the arena for those reasons. But I went into it expecting I’d have to have a thick skin. Yes, there are certain aspects that might be heightened because you’re female but much of the challenges are not gender specific.

MRS: What do you think having a male president with a demeaning attitude toward women does for women in the country?

MF: I think it sends a terrible message. One of our campaign messages was that all women and men are created equal and we need to value and respect all Americans, to guard against normalizing sexual assault and predatory behavior against women or anyone who is perceived as weak and vulnerable. So to the extent that women left, right, and center can come together to repudiate sexual assault as normal behavior—that’s required.

MRS: Do you think men are being held more accountable for their words and actions as a result of all the awareness?

MF: On the whole I think it’s getting better because others are being held accountable, and there are enough women in positions of power who are willing to call it out. But I think what was born out of this election is that we have a lot of work to do.

I do think that culturally, from Bill Clinton in the nineties to where we are now twenty-plus years later, there’s an expectation that we’re less tolerant of powerful men engaging in predatory behavior.

MRS: What are some of the examples of work we have to do?

MF: Continue to call it out at the highest level. One thing we saw when the Trump tape came out is there were many leaders who said this was wrong. We saw Republicans who said they were un-endorsing or that he should drop out. Political power made many of them backtrack and support him again later. But calling it out was a good sign. Their calling it out showed that at least part of them had a conscience on sexual assault even if there was no follow through.

The next step would be having a conscience and follow through—consequences.

The same goes for women in workplaces, as we've seen in tech, where studies have shown significant harassment. We need to confront it head on. What you’ve often seen is that women don’t want to be viewed as troublemakers, like they’re ruffling feathers; they don’t want to call it out. They have to confront it directly, they have to raise it with the managers. I think there’s a lot of responsibility on the side of managers and CEOs to have zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. I hope that culturally we continue to go in that direction.

MRS: As someone who has worked at Twitter and has a great social media presence, how do you avoid information overload?

MF: That’s a great question. I do rely on apps and services that show what friends are sharing the most, rather than just looking at the full feed myself. That helps limit the amount, but I also don't want to just stay in that bubble, so I also limit my time. I check about an hour in morning, check again in afternoon, and at night.

This is something I’m constantly working on. I spend a lot of time consuming information. I’ve been starting to think more about strategies to question what I'm reading and not take it at face value. So, if I'm interested in a certain topic or story, I’ll focus on that but consume multiple sources on that topic.

MRS: When did you first realize you needed to found Empowered Women?

MF: It was a combination of things. There‘s women’s empowerment culturally on the rise, as a theme, as an interest area, with major celebrities and CEOs or executives making it a big part of what they talk about; and politically in the 2012 election, there was a question of whether parties were waging a war on women, or not. But all these conversations were missing a lot of women’s daily lives and experiences. I wanted to network and gather discussions for women on what really was empowering them day to day and also encourage them to get involved in civic life. Whether it be working in the civic arena, in media, as elected officials running for office themselves, or in the private sector. All of this inspired me to start Empowered Women. I see women more empowered than ever before, but in our brave new world, we could always use more women’s voices raised and included.

I spent a lot of time campaigning in Utah, one of the most conservative states in the country. We received 21 percent of the vote with a very modest budget and no name ID prior to running. My personal experience is that there is a hunger to see more women in leadership. Women really gravitated to my campaign, even if politically they couldn’t support Hillary’s campaign. It wasn’t because she was a woman; they were eager to see more women running. I would encourage women not to lose hope that there isn’t a woman president this time; there is a hunger, and I saw it.

MRS: How was the campaign experience, as a mom with two kids?

MF: It’s challenging. There isn’t an ideal of a balance; it’s very difficult. I joined late in the campaign, and it was an all-in thing. I was traveling, so I was away from my kids most of the time; it is not what I enjoy or would opt for, but it’s what the job required.

We were campaigning in many family friendly areas, and many families came to our events, and people would come and make positive comments. People often thanked me; and they said, "thank your husband, and your kids as well—we know what a great sacrifice that is." For my running mate Evan as well it was a sacrifice. But for me, as a mother, we experience it the most.

MRS: What support systems or methods help you manage both family and career?

MF: Generally, a supportive partner/husband is tip number one. I have work that allows for flexibility; I can set hours that are more kid friendly. I have the ability to drop them off or pick them up from school and get back to work. My kids are getting older now and understand some things, my 4-year-old understands I’m doing a job that’s very important, and I was honest with him that I was going to be away from him, and that made me sad. It was hard for me, and I understand it was hard for him, but it was important for our family and that’s why I was doing it.

Illustration: Sam Kerr