AHEA Panel Releases Report That Provides a Roadmap for All Political Parties and Campaigns


Becky Carroll becky@cstrategiesllc.com

Caroline Wellford caroline@cstrategiesllc.com

AHEA Panel Releases Report That Provides a Roadmap for All Political Parties and Campaigns to Address Sexual Harassment, Elevate More Women Into Leadership Positions in Politics and Elect More Women to Public Office

The non-partisan Illinois Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access (AHEA) Panel releases report after hosting six listening sessions throughout the state to collect feedback and input from hundreds of women who work in politics


The Illinois Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access (AHEA) Panel today released its report that outlines recommendations for political party leaders and campaigns to adopt in order to change the culture and behaviors that have allowed sexual harassment to pervade our political system and stunt the advancement of women for decades. (See the end of the release for links to the Panel’s report, model policy addressing sexual harassment for campaigns, and the report’s video.)


A non-partisan organization led by State Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza, State Sen. Melinda Bush (31st District, Grayslake) and State Rep. Carol Ammons (103rd District, Champaign-Urbana), the Panel sent its report to Democratic, Green, Libertarian, and Republican party leaders at the state and county level as well as all statewide and state-level campaigns registered with the State Board of Elections. The Panel is asking them to adopt the tenets of the report and offering to meet with leaders to provide feedback, guidance and input on its recommendations as well as next steps. The panel has asked county chairs to share the report with other county and municipal campaigns and party leaders.


Some of the highlights of the Panel’s recommendations include: tie party funding and resources to campaigns adopting policies and participating in anti-harassment training; create an independent body that is independent from party leadership to receive complaints of sexual-harassment within the parties and on campaigns; and a commitment by each party to put forth resources in the form of dollars and staff to intentionally recruit and support women to win 50% of elected offices across state, county and municipal offices, and move more women into leadership positions throughout political organizations and campaigns.


“Every political party here in Illinois has a historic opportunity to make a break from a past where women were subject to debasing and unacceptable behaviors in the workplace that not only humiliated and shamed them, but stunted or ended the potential of many bright careers,” said State Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza. “Let’s send a message by bypassing partisanship and together embrace a future where we support and celebrate women, as well as people of color, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community as equals in this system.”


Last July, the panel hosted six listening sessions in cities across Illinois to gather feedback and input from women of all political persuasions who work or once worked in politics to help inform the outcome and recommendations of this report. The listening tour included: Urbana-Champaign; Chicago; Rockford; Edwardsville; Springfield; and Carbondale. The panel also provided an opportunity for women to share experiences either anonymously or by name via a survey on its website www.AHEApanel.org. Hundreds of women ultimately participated in this process. 


“This report comes from both the heart and direct experiences of hundreds of women who’ve worked in politics here in Illinois. Party leaders across all aisles should take this extremely seriously and act on it as a signal that they hear us and believe us,” said State Senator Melinda Bush. “To not act upon this or to delay implementation will send the wrong message to women during a time when we are all woke to this crisis and will no longer settle for lip service from political leaders.”


The panel not only heard stories from women about their experiences with sexual harassment, but more so about what a future state should look like, which includes an intentional effort by all political parties to elevate women into leadership positions throughout politics as well as electing more women to office. Women throughout the state consistently expressed a wish to have more seats at the table and to be valued in Illinois politics. This report provides a roadmap for starting to create the culture women need in campaigns, political offices and political parties. 


“Sexual Assault is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a human issue. What does the current climate teach women and girls about coming forward to speak about their victimization? Death threats, suspicion, ridicule and scorn. Motives questioned and credibility attacked,” said State Representative Carol Ammons. “This is the culture that needs to be eradicated. The victims should not be on trial. We must foster an environment where survivors will feel safe, heard, and secure.” 


The report’s specific recommendations are as follows:


Intentional Workplace Culture Change to Create Safe, Dignified Work Environments That Are Free From Sexual Harassment and Other Misconduct


●      Adopt clear and non-negotiable policies that go beyond the law

●      Provide anti-harassment training to everyone involved in campaigns

●      Tie party funding and resources to campaigns adopting policies and participating in training

●      Provide independent reporting avenues for reporting potential misconduct

●      Establish an Independent Body to receive and investigate complaints 

●      Conduct fair and thorough investigations

●      Prohibit retaliation and provide support services for victims of sexual harassment

●      Prohibit non-disclosure agreements and mandatory arbitration clauses

●      Craft reasonable policies for consensual romantic relationships and alcohol use


Elect More Women to Office in Illinois and Promote More into Leadership Positions Throughout Politics


●      Commit to a concrete goal of women filling 50% of the seats in Illinois’ General Assembly

●      Hire a manager-level Director of Diversity in the state parties to recruit more diverse candidates to run for elected office and for top-level staff positions

●      Invest party money in training women, developing their talent, and supporting their races and promoting women into leaderships positions in campaigns and political organizations

●      Require diversity in the pool of applicants or candidates considered for every political vacancy and leadership position (including people of color, LGBTQ and people with disabilities)

●      Establish an Advisory Board to oversee these changes


“Sexual harassment doesn’t discriminate by industry, workplace, title or political party. It’s on all of us to create workspaces where women are safe and empowered to lead,” said Tina Tchen, legal counsel to the Illinois Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access (AHEA) Panel. “Navigating gender issues in the workplace isn’t always easy and our existing tools and laws do not fully address these issues. I’m hopeful this new roadmap will give campaign leadership the tools they need to get it right, and help create an environment where women are not only supported in the workplace, but are also met with dignity, respect and the resources they need to lead or run for public office. I hope this report will serve as a stepping stone in moving Illinois forward.”


The profound lack of trust and skepticism in the investigation of sexual harassment complaints, and whether campaigns would actually do anything to address reported misconduct, was the impetus for recommending that each state party establish an independent body, that’s independent of party leadership, to receive complaints of misconduct, whether from their own staff or from campaigns, and to promptly investigate and resolve all such complaints.


The Panel is not making specific recommendations as to how the independent body should be formed and act, as that process should be open to additional discussion and as part of the Advisory Board’s role with each party, which the panel recommends be appointed to oversee change in the system. Ultimately, such an independent body must be created that is truly independent of party leadership so that women feel comfortable and confident coming forward with complaints knowing that they will be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. 


The Panel will continue to engage the public, political leaders and elected officials around these issues and looks forward to seeing the next steps that each party and organization will take in adopting these recommendations.


A link to access the full Panel report is here. A link to the report’s video is here. A link to the Panel’s model anti-harassment policy for political campaigns can be found here.