I can still remember how the phone conversation went.
“Sara, the mayor is not running for reelection. You should consider running.”
I responded with, “No, I’m not qualified.”
Now, in reality, I was as qualified than the mayor who was stepping down. I have a master’s degree in public administration. I work for a public agency that connects me to all of our local cities and community leaders. I sit on the Polk County Conservation Board. I am a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and have served on other boards and committees in my city. So why did I so quickly insist that I wasn’t qualified?
My next rationale for why I would not run for mayor was even better than the first: “I can’t. I have two young children.”
Later that night, before going to bed, I began reading chapter 7 of Lean In (“Don’t Leave Before You Leave”). I finished the chapter and had a realization— I was holding myself back by believing that I couldn’t be both a good mayor and a good mother. In general, I am a strong, independent woman who is used to challenging the world around me. But in that moment, I was shutting myself out of an opportunity. No man would say, “No, I can’t run for office because I have two young children at home. I can’t be a good dad and a good mayor.” So the next day I made it known that I would be running for mayor of Pleasant Hill, Iowa. I had officially leaned in.
While I was campaigning, most of the conversations went as follows:
Man: “Wow, you could be the first female mayor of our city. That’s great. So tell me, what did your husband say? Is he OK with you running?”
Man: “It would be great to have you as our mayor; you have excellent credentials. But is your skin thick enough for this?”
My guess is that those questions are not asked nearly as frequently of male candidates—if at all. Even as I became more and more aware of stereotypes I had to overcome, I found myself once again making a blunder. Right before a fundraising event, I coached my husband on how to answer a question.
“If anyone asks us if we have kids, just say, ‘Yes, two boys,’” I told him. “Don’t tell them their ages unless they ask.”
Our sons were eleven months and two and a half years old, and I was petrified that someone would think that only a heartless mother would run for office when her kids were so young. In reality, that is not the case at all. I am a mother and a passionate public servant. Who is to say that I am not capable of being both?
I was elected as mayor of my town on November 5—with 78 percent of the vote. At the age of twenty-nine, I made history as the youngest and first female mayor of my city.
Even now that I’m in office, there are some who still ask, “How can you do this when you have two young children at home?” My very calm response is always the same: “Why are men allowed to do that and women are not?”
Sara Kurovski is the mayor of Pleasant Hill, Iowa