At Georgetown’s OWN IT Summit, I attended a panel on Women in Politics. It was at this panel, that I first heard Tara Dowdell speaking about her passion for leveraging politics to make the world a better place. Tara is the President and Founder of her own marketing and strategic consulting firm- the Tara Dowdell Group. Besides being a young entrepreneur, she has extensive experience in different political arenas. Tara was the first African American, and youngest person to serve as the Director of Appointments in the Office of the New Jersey Governor. She has held senior positions on campaigns at the federal, state and local levels as well as worked on issue-specific advocacy. When she was asked about her recipe for success at the panel, she emphasized work ethic, passion and the cultivating of genuine relationships. Her work ethic has allowed her to forge a path for herself, which she uses to help those who come behind her. After being incredibly inspired by Tara’s story, confidence and humility I asked her about her approach to politics, and her reasons for pursuing it. Here are some of her responses:
What got you interested in politics?
I was one of those who was interested in politics since I was a child. I was class representative in the 4th, 8th, 9th and 12th grades. It sounds like a bad cliché, but I was drawn to it, and drawn to leadership. At the same time as I was interested in school politics, I would even watch the president’s State of the Union Addresses. I think what prompted that interest was that I had this idea that I could use policy to influence the world and my community. When I was a kid, the people I saw in politics were definitely not diverse, I didn’t see people like me in office. Instead, I think I was drawn to the idea that through politics, I could make things better for people.
How does your story, and who you are, inform your involvement in politics?
Both of my parents were teachers in economically disadvantaged areas. My parents are very civic minded and committed to their students and communities they taught. I think I learned to want to give back from them. I also, recognize that I have been very blessed. My parents will give you the shirt off their back, they are incredibly supportive and have always given me the freedom to do what I wanted to do and take risks. My parents really let me chart my own course, some people aren’t given that freedom, and I understand it’s a luxury. My mother went to college, and she was constantly looking for more and more opportunities to provide me with. I’m also blessed to have an extended family that was there for me whenever I was in anything. It was like having my own little entourage there to support me. They were there to make sure I wouldn’t fail. Although I charted my own course, I knew I could fall back on them. A lot of people don’t have that. Because I am so blessed, I feel like it’s my responsibility to try and reach back and give to other people.
What issue(s) are you currently focusing on?
Lately, I have become really passionate about access to capital for women and minority women. When people look at the high unemployment rates in Latino and African American communities, they come up with a lot of possible reasons. I think that the truth is that people hire people who look like them most of the time. I think it’s important to increase access to jobs, and access to capital for those people and communities. Our networks are segregated. It’s one of those things people want to pretend doesn’t exist. There’s also something to be said about the fact that when women entrepreneurs are given capital, they do better than their male counterparts. It’s even harder for minority women to get capital and minority men have a hard time as well. Currently, there is a focus on employment disparity in tech but not about investors and the closeness of their networks. It might not be a conscious thing, but it’s so much harder for minority women to access capital because the ones with it don’t look like them. This keeps entrepreneurs from being able to grow their businesses and create jobs for people who look like them, for people who live in their own communities- people in their networks.
Lastly, have you considered running for office?
When I was a really really young staffer, I definitely wanted to run. That was a big part of my participation. As I got more involved however, I saw how cut-throat it can be. I wanna have more money and be in a better place in my life before I run for office. I think that’s something women do more than men, but I just want to have to ask less people for money. Most people want something if they give you money, it is a corrupting part of the system. Some people want something that dovetails with something that is right, and some people do not. I will wait until I’m older, have more money, and have developed more influence on my own. I’m a big democrat, but the way the party system works, the party picks people. If you have influence, you will get picked, or you can run without that anointment from the party. The truth is, my business is marketing. For me to run, my business would be hit because people would go after it. It’s funny that you added a question about running, though. I live in Jersey City, New Jersey and it has really been blossoming and flourishing. Recently, a paper asked a woman I know, who is also in marketing, who she thought could be the female Mayor of Jersey City if they ran in the next election. She said that she thought I could be Mayor. I will not be running in 2 years, but I am so flattered. It makes me feel good, and it’s good to know that people recognize that if I run, it would not be out of vanity. It would be because I would think I can really improve things for people.