Raise your hand (virtually) if you’ve ever thought about running for office. Now, leave your hand up if you actually did it.
If we were all in a room together (and we can be at the NC Women’s Summit), Sharon Harker of Beaufort could leave her hand raised. Two years ago she ran for the position of Beaufort commissioner.
“We do need to have a voice at the table – and that’s without dispute, women have been fighting for the right to have their rights heard in a male-dominated field,” she told me.
Her conviction and courage to put herself out there is what makes Sharon our Woman to Watch as we recognize women’s equality in the month of August.
Harker’s day job is in health care, running the sleep disorder clinic in her community when she’s not serving the citizens of Beaufort. She told me she enjoys her job because working with people who are sleep-challenged gives her the chance to see the immediate impact of her work.
However, she knows that serving as an elected official takes more patience. Before running for city commissioner in 2015, Harker prepared herself by serving on numerous community boards and getting the chance to listen to the concerns of fellow citizens.
“I wanted to look at the town as a whole and how we can benefit all 4,000 people
I learned that you need to listen – you also need to put yourself out there because not everyone is going to be able to connect with you,” she told me.
For that reason, now that she is elected, Harker is easy for her constituents to find. She holds regular office hours to make sure she doesn’t lose touch with issues facing the community.
“It gives you an opportunity to be well-rounded, so when you have decisions to make, you need to remember there will be other people affected by it,” she told me.
When it comes to encouraging other women to follow in her footsteps, Harker offers this advice.
- I wouldn’t go in there thinking I’ve got to win win win. You go in thinking you need to educate and encourage people to understand where you’re coming from and how you can benefit in the process.
- It’s not a scary process to go in a sign on the dotted line. Preparing yourself to go into office is the hard part. Women have to do a little more preparation than men will.
- If you’re interested, don’t wake up and say I don’t like this process – it’s probably because you weren’t involved to begin with.
- Make sure you have support of your family and whatever network that you have will always support you.
Figure out how you want to fit in and what office is right for you.
She has one other piece of advice for all of us, whether we’re running for office or not.
“Don’t be the hardest on other women. Sometimes I get more criticized or analyzed by female citizens,” she said.
Harker doesn’t mince any words. The process is a challenge, but she says it’s important for more women to get involved.
“Women add that extra layer that makes the world go round, we see it at home, we see it in the workplace,” she told me.