Q&A with Sue Rahr: Women in Leadership
Sue Rahr served as the first woman King County Sheriff from 2007 through 2012.
Q - Tell us a little about your experience going into the King County Sheriff's department as a woman in the late 1970's.
A - I began my career with the King County Sheriff's Office in the late 70's when there were very, very few women working as regular patrol officers on the street. The policing profession was not quite ready. My first "locker room" was a closet that I could only access by walking through the men's locker room. Six years later we had adequate locker rooms, but I had to work the streets until the fifth month of my pregnancy because the administration couldn't figure out what to do with me as I wasn't technically 'sick or injured." Most of the men I worked with on the street only wanted to know that I would work just as hard as they did, be brave, and carry my weight. The veteran commanders were not in a position to see this. However, over time, most of them came around.
Q - What was your greatest challenge as a woman candidate?
A - Realizing that the general public was not as accepting of having a female Sheriff as the men I had been working with for the previous 25 years. I had to prove my capabilities all over again. At first I was angry when I was frequently asked ridiculous questions that a male candidate for Sheriff would never be asked. Do you carry a gun? What does your husband think about you being a cop? It took great discipline to suppress the urge to say, "What does your wife think about you being an idiot? Then I got over myself and seized the opportunity to educate people about the capacity women have to lead. I had to be very careful not to dress "too feminine" and tell stories about dangerous situations I had been in on the street. Although I wanted to talk more about my specific agenda to improve the Sheriff's Office, I had to accept that I first had to convince voters I was a capable leader before they would listen to my agenda.
Q - What advice would you give women considering running for office?
A - You must have a strong passion that drives you because you are going to need that passion to sustain you through the tough road of campaigning. Be sure the people in your support system are prepared for your long hours on the campaign trail and the criticism from your opponents. You need people who can pick up the slack for the daily responsibilities you won't have time to complete. And you'll need someone to help you put the unpleasant parts in context. You must learn to accept criticism and attacks for what they are - a campaign tactic. Believe me, they FEEL very personal...but they're not. Most women I know were socialized to please people and find this very hard to do. With practice, you will get used to not taking things personally. Most important, prepare, prepare, prepare. Have someone play devil's advocate with you, anticipating tough questions and role playing verbal grilling. The more you practice this type of interaction the better you will be able to handle it when it really happens...and it will! I know this all sounds very negative, and it is. But it's necessary. If you're not tough enough to campaign, you're not tough enough to be an effective leader. The reward comes after the election when you are in a position to influence public policy and improve the quality of life in your community. And that makes it all worth it!
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