Where are the women leaders? Women account for almost 51 percent of the U.S. population, yet are sharply underrepresented in public office, particularly at the state and national levels. There are only five female governors among the 50 states and women make up about only about 20 percent of the U.S. Congress. That means more often than not, that the decisions that impact us all, on every level, are being made primarily by men.
The 2016 political season initially left many speculating that Hillary Clinton’s loss would set the number of women seeking elected office back, and an article in The Atlantic pointed out the thoughts held by many – that the contentious nature of the race and Clinton’s high-profile defeat could directly discourage other women from running for elected office. While Clinton’s loss may have caused some women to pause, the weeks since the election have served to rally women on both ends of the political spectrum, to get involved. Organizations that recruit and train women to run for office have reported unprecedented interest in their programs nationwide.
“Women run for office when they want to fix something or when they’re mad as hell,” Alexandra De Luca, a spokeswoman for EMILY’s List was quoted as saying by Reuters.
EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics, held a candidate training on January 22nd for approximately 500 women interested in running for office who attended the Women’s March on Washington. In 2016, EMILY’s List successfully helped elect four new women to the United States Senate and eight new women to the House of Representatives, making this Congress the most diverse in U.S. history.
EMILY’s List has trained more than 9,000 female candidates and their staff members since launching efforts to recruit women into the political pipeline in 2001. “Being ready to lead does not have to do with your having been a seasoned elected official,” said Muthoni Wambu Kraal, the organization’s senior director for state and local campaigns. “We are in a moment, and it’s a moment that EMILY’s List is built for.”
VoteRunLead, is nonpartisan organization that trains women for careers in politics, and recently told The Guardian that there’s been an enormous increase in the number of applicants for its training webinars — from 30 or so for a typical webinar to more than 1,000.
“In a 48-hour period after the election, we had 1,100 women sign up for our next webinar, and we had to close it and start a waitlist,” Erin Vilardi, executive director of VoteRunLead, told The Guardian. “Most women said they woke up on November 9 and realized they could no longer just spectate or click on online petitions, they wanted to know how to run for office, whether it’s the school board, the city council, state or national representation.”
Another organization that women contemplating public office can turn is She Should Run, an initiative encouraging women from all walks of life to run for the public office. Their online Incubator is free and provides guidance and support for all women considering public service as a leadership path. The nonpartisan group serves women who are curious about running for elected office but not ready to build a campaign. Erin Loos Cutraro, She Should Run’s co-founder and CEO, was quoted as saying women often feel a disconnect between the work they’re already doing and the prospect of what they could accomplish as an elected official. “When women run for office, they run to get things done, not to get power,” Cutraro told Slate. “Men run for office to get power.”
Part of She Should Run’s mission is showing women that their community and workplace leadership experience counts, and that they can have a major impact on the issues they care about by entering politics. Ultimately the organization has created a culture that inspires women and girls to aspire towards public leadership, and operates under the belief that women of all backgrounds should have an equal shot at elected leadership and that our country will benefit from having a government with varied perspectives and experiences.
Like EMILY’s List and VoteRunLead, She Should Run has also seen a surge in participants. Normally, between 100 and 200 women sign up for a program or request more information after an election. Since the 2016 election, 6,000 women have contacted She Should Run or been nominated by other folks as potential candidates. “Perhaps the endgame would have been the same [if Clinton had won], but the level of urgency may have been different,” Cutraro told Slate.
As all of these women muster their courage and support and take the first steps to run for office, it demonstrates that this truly is a woman’s time to lead. It’s important in this time of renewed female engagement that we don’t just focus on Clinton’s loss, we also need to look to the women who have run, perhaps already won, already hold office, and are busying themselves in their communities, states, and nation on every level. We need to celebrate the women who have paved the way, and support those ready to follow their lead. It’s when women help women that we all win, and it is time to help one another and change the world for the better!