by Heather Madden, Independent Women's Voice

As appeared at the American Spectator

If conservatives can’t sell their agenda to voters in the upcoming presidential election, then the Left’s vision for our nation may be cemented for years to come. In order to win and put our nation on the right path, Republicans need to zero in on how conservative solutions revolving around greater choice and economic opportunity will help all Americans, especially women.

The truth is, Democrats and Republicans aren’t just two competing teams, one blue, and one red. Democratic and Republican candidates have different, often dueling visions for the future of America, whether it’s workplace regulations, healthcare, or energy. These issues have profound influence on our country and economy, as well as individuals’ economic well-being. This is why there should be less attention on the political theater, and more on the candidates’ plans and visions for America.

Take the two parties approaches to workplace policies of particular importance to women. Time and time again, the Left seeks to stoke anger about “gender inequality” to justify more government regulations. They claim legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act will close the “77 cents” wage gap and make sure women get equal pay for equal work. These tactics are often effective because they draw on Americans’ understandable concern about a practice that we all know to be wrong: workplace discrimination. Americans abhor the idea of women being treated unfairly, and since they don’t hear much about what the proposal would actually do or how it would work in the real world, the Left’s proposals tend to garner support.

Republicans have a different vision of how to help make our workplaces fairer and protect women. But too often, what the public hears from Republicans is just the word “no,” a rejection of the solutions proposed by the Left. To get a fair hearing, conservatives need to explain why the Left’s policies won’t work and offer an alternative vision for improving workplaces. Conservatives can start by explaining the roots of difference in earnings—that men tend to gravitate toward longer work hours and higher paying careers, while women tend to prioritize other job features, particularly working mothers who often value flexibility over salary. They should also explain how more workplace regulations have an adverse effect on the market, ultimately hurting women.

Republicans have a better way of ensuring a fairer work world, and it starts with encouraging the creation of more jobs so that people have better options. Republicans want workers not to be stuck in unfulfilling jobs, but want an economy with plentiful opportunities so people can find positions most suitable to their individual skills and preferences. Under these conditions, customized employment will thrive and women will be better off, because when there are more jobs than there are people, employers are motivated to offer top-tier incentives to attract the best workers.

By recognizing the importance of choice and flexibility, and by advocating policies that actually help people reach their dreams, conservatives can better connect with women. The importance of personal preference cannot be understated. Women do not need government support to find professional fulfillment — in fact, to suggest they do is sexism of the highest order. To disregard these preferences is to disregard what the majority of women really want.

Rather than trying to steer women down professional avenues that others may think is most suitable for them, we should instead focus our energy on how to empower women to make strategic decisions about their own lives. This is why it’s more important now than ever for sound economic policies to triumph. Yet conservatives need to actively make this case and highlight how their proposals will result in a better life for all women and their families. They need to demonstrate their awareness and knowledge of the issues that every day Americans are facing — like mortgages, college affordability, and retirement savings — and not just reject Democrats’ proposals, but offer better ideas for how to address these problems.

For too long, the Democratic Party has promoted a false narrative, effectively painting conservatives as a force dividing the nation. Enough is enough. Republicans have to combat this by engaging with a broader electorate and by making the case for an all-inclusive path to economic prosperity. Otherwise, Democrats will continue to have the upper hand with women, in large part, because they speak to the problems voters are facing on a daily basis.

In 2012, women gave President Obama a 12-point edge in their votes. If conservatives can overcome this gap by convincing women that their plans for smarter government and less regulation result in more personal freedom, opportunity, and success, then the chances of a Republican candidate winning a presidential election drastically improves. An all-inclusive message is a path to victory for 2016 and beyond, and can ultimately determine which vision prevails for current and future generations. Today our country is at a crossroads, and simply put, the stakes could not be higher.