Alumnae in Office
By Chelsea Mason '06
More women are running for office than ever – and they’re winning. We talked with two ND grads about their experiences: Christine Greig, a representative in the Michigan state House since 2014, and Megan Sladek, an attorney who is running for Mayor of Oviedo, FL and previously served on the Oviedo City Council. Below is an edited version of that conversation.
Thanks for talking with us! So to start, tell me how you got here. What prompted you to run for office?
Christine: After a 20-year career in technology, we sold our company. We had three young boys and I decided to stay home and focus on them, which got me really involved in public education. At that time we had a lot of budget cuts going on in Michigan, and I wanted to know more about what was going on. I found that it was a government problem - policy at the state government level was having the biggest impact on education for kids across the state. I ran for office to make sure everyone could have access to the same good public education that I had.
Megan: I heard there was an open seat on the city council, and I decided to get involved. I had started a nonprofit about 15 years ago to address some historic preservation issues here, and found the same problem as Christine did – it’s a government problem. I wanted to help make those decisions.
What’s it like being on the campaign trail?
Megan: It’s fun, but sweaty here in Florida! During my first campaign in 2016, I knocked on about 6,000 doors. Here, there’s no local paper, so no one is really covering our local politics. And a city is such a personal place that mail alone doesn’t do it. So it’s entirely up to the candidate to go directly to the people.
Christine: Knocking doors was the secret to my success too. I had never run for office before so meeting neighbors and knocking on doors really connected me with voters. Going into the campaign I was focused on education and roads, since our roads are in such bad shape up here. But when I talked to neighbors, I heard what a major problem mental health services were, and so that actually rose to the top of my list as well.
How did your community respond to you as a female candidate?
Christine: My district had a strong tradition of electing women so it was a positive here. Sometimes it can be easier to knock doors as a woman too, believe it or not. But when I got to Lansing, I definitely felt a difference because it was so male-dominated. That’s changed a bit in my time here – I think we’re up to 36% female now in the House.
Megan: For me, campaigning was interesting because I’m on the younger side. Voters would ask me how old I was, or where my parents were! But this time I have an exciting new twist – I’m pregnant. I’m not getting the same questions I did last time!
What challenges did you face once you took office, and who helped you navigate them?
Megan: During my term, the city council was 4 guys and me. There’s never been more than one woman on the council at a time in its entire history. The men often go out after meetings and hang out, but I’m not comfortable doing that – so it affects the camaraderie of the group, especially because it’s so small. I’d also get interrupted a lot as well in meetings, but if I did that myself, I’d get called a “fussy woman.” I’d also get “mommy” or “petulant child,” even during meetings while the cameras were rolling. I kinda had to grin and bear it. But the city manager was helpful as I adjusted to the council, particularly with communication. He told me that he understood what I was trying to say, but that I was communicating differently from the rest of the council. So he became kind of a behind-the-scenes advocate, and I could go to him and ask how to express things, and to learn some parliamentary tricks to control the discussion better.
Christine: In the session before I started in Lansing, a women’s caucus was formed for networking and mentoring. Just like Megan was saying, the guys had a different way of interacting after session – many of them would stay in Lansing and go to dinner, while a lot of women would go home to their families. The chair of the caucus took me under her wing, showed me the ropes, and encouraged me to run for leadership. I hadn’t planned to do that, but she saw something in me and I ended up as floor leader my second term, and now leader this term – a lot of that is because of her mentorship.
How did ND influence who you are?
Megan: While I was at Notre Dame I had the chance to go to India, and that was eye-opening. Even though I was immersed in a very different culture, I saw that many of the problems there are the same as ours, rooted in a breakdown of the family in some way. To me, it all stems from that – when things go awry, you’ll have problems at greater levels. That’s really stuck with me.
Christine: The notion of family ties into my experience too. I was from a small, rural town, and when I got to ND my roommate for the first two years was from Nairobi. Right away, that expanded my world. I also volunteered and was active with the Center for Social Concerns, and got a scholarship between junior and senior year to work with the county health department. We went out on calls for low-income rural women and children. And we found the same thing that Megan was talking about – the commonality in everyone’s struggles. So that made me think about how to make good public policy that lifts everyone up, both by lending a helping hand and getting out of the way. I attribute a lot of that to what I learned at Notre Dame.
What advice do you have for other women considering a run for office?
Megan: Make sure your family is on board, and make sure you’re willing to do the work. No one’s going to knock on doors for you, at least not in the beginning. And have a plan to win before you begin – otherwise it’s a waste of your time and too much stress on your family.
Christine: Don’t underestimate your own power and experiences, I’ve been involved in recruiting with my current position, and it’s a pattern that women have to be asked over and over before they’ll decide to run. But men will often say “of course I’ll run.” I’m seeing that change though as more women are elected into office and there are more role models.
Megan: I saw the same thing! When I was recruiting candidates, the women were far more reluctant to run than the men, and often the women would have been stronger candidates.
Christine: And you’re right, you need to be ready to do the work. A lot of people think they need to have a certain resume to run. But we need all life experiences in government. So don’t underestimate yourself, but do the work. This is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.
Many thanks to Christine and Megan for contributing to our newsletter. Know an alumna that we should profile? Let us know