It's old news that there aren't enough women in government: Just 20% of seats in Congress are held by women, and the proportion of women in state legislatures is 25%.
Since 2011, the non-partisan organization She Should Run has been trying to change that ratio by supporting women who are considering a run for office. Whether it's through networking or ground support, the organization has a simple mission: Get 250,000 women in office by 2030. It's ambitious, but if achieved, it would mean achieving gender parity among U.S. elected officials (All told, there are 500,000 elected positions in the U.S.)
Yesterday, She Should Run held its 2017 National Conversation in Washington, D.C. (You can watch the full event here.) Speakers included Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; Representatives Brenda Lawrence, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Stephanie Murphy, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser; and Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Those in the audience ranged from women preparing to run for office, to younger women preparing to run for student council.
Erin Loos Cutraro, founder and CEO of She Should Run, opened the conversation with some encouraging numbers: Over 15,000 women have become part of the She Should Run community since last year's election, and 11,000 are actively planning to run for office.
Speakers at yesterday's event stressed the importance of women making the decision to run for office, the psychological and logistical challenges of becoming an elected female leader, and the stories of how they came to be elected officials themselves.
"Women need a louder voice, and we need a seat at the table," Gillibrand told Refinery29, stressing that she thinks women need to run to represent their perspectives and values in government.
There were a few history makers on stage: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican House Representative from Florida, told the story of how she became the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. "I wasn't supposed to win, but here I am," said Ros-Lehtinen.
Stephanie Murphy, the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress, gave the crowd a reason to cheer when asked by filmmaker Dyllan McGee to name a female who inspires her. Murphy replied decisively: Hillary Clinton.
Others talked about the confidence and ambition gap, and how to combat that in the fight to increase female leadership. "Learn the process, learn all aspects of running a campaign, and work very hard," D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told Refinery29. "When you're starting out, start early. If you know there's a seat you're interested in, start raising money, knocking on doors, and telling people what your vision is."
Jess Weiner, a social entrepreneur and host of the event, gave a prescriptive final thought to the night: "When I think about rewriting the narrative around what leadership looks like, it's that we should give women permission to embody feminine leadership and give men permission to vote for that leadership."