Whether she's running for student government, serving as a Capitol Hill chief of staff, managing U.S. Senate campaigns, or heading up fundraising for a presidential bid, Stephanie Schriock has worked at pretty much every level of politics. But, in many ways, 2017 propelled her to new heights.
Schriock, 44, is president of Emily's List, the political action committee dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights. That makes the veteran Democratic operative "the head fundraiser, the head strategist, [and the] head spokesperson" of a group that poured an eye-popping $90 million into politics during the 2016 election.
Now, Emily's List's mission and track record at the polls has made it a major magnet for the legions of women motivated to enter politics in the wake of the 2016 election: To date, more than 25,000 women have reached out about running for office. Those numbers, and the hotly contested midterm elections, are going to make 2018 an even bigger year for the organization — and for Schriock. Case in point: Just this month, she was named one of Politico's 18 to watch in 2018.
"We have a big mountain to climb, there’s a lot of work to do. But we have to win," Schriock told Refinery29 in an interview. "It’s going to take everything we all have to get it done."
So what does it take to win — and correct a problem as big as gender parity in politics while she's at it? Schriock got candid about those challenges in a career-focused chat with Refinery29 this fall. Read on to learn about her rise through the male-dominated field of politics, the self-doubt she had to overcome to take on her current role, and, of course, her tried-and-true tips for asking for more money (she was a fundraiser, after all).
On the importance of going for your goals (and being willing to adjust your strategy to achieve them):
“I really wanted to be class president at my high school in Butte, Montana, and I ran [unsuccessfully] a number of times. I loved my classmates, but they just weren’t into me being president. I really cared about the school and I had a lot of ambition, so when I was a junior I figured out that I should run for student body president because the whole school votes and not just my class. I orchestrated my entire campaign toward the freshmen and sophomores. I even got the younger sister of one of my opponents to endorse me. And I won. I realized even then that I like the mechanics of how I put [the campaign] together. It did not make me a good candidate, but it did make me a good campaign manager. "
On the hardest part of taking the helm of a high-profile organization:
"I've always been the person behind the candidate. When I’d set up campaigns, the first person I’d hire was a communications director so I wouldn’t have to talk to the press. But as president of Emily’s List that's part of my job. [At first] I was scared to death. I was so intimidated about saying something wrong that I was afraid to say anything. But I had to get over that and learn. As Hillary Clinton would say, it took a village to help me. I had a lot of coaching, media training, and I practice before I do interviews. And here’s the thing: Anyone can learn it. Some people are naturals, but most are not. We can teach those skills. And we tell the women [we work with] all the time: Sometimes you’ve got to just go do it."
On the shifting expectations for female candidates today:
"For the first almost two full decades of Emily's List, the '80s, '90s, and even the aughts, we sat down with women who were running and said, 'You’re going to have to prove that you’re qualified to run for the job. You’re going to have to prove to voters that a woman can be a senator.' Because voters just hadn’t seen that. We would talk about looking the part of senator. We have trained generations of women to look that part. But now, there’s a huge shift. The bar is still higher for women, but people want more authenticity, and I think it's different for women and men. We’re trying to increase the number of women of all ages and all demographics and all races in office. Making them all fit into a box is precisely the wrong thing to do right now. What we want is diverse experiences. We want people to have the freedom to do what they’re comfortable with. It's really important."
On the "appearance tax" for women in the public eye:
"My closet looks very different today as the president of Emily’s List than it did when I was the chief of staff for Senator Jon Tester. You can’t wear the same jacket if you’re doing TV every day or you’re giving speeches. Men, they look the same. They just have to have a lot of ties! They rotate their blue and their red and their purple, maybe they go crazy with a yellow or a green. They've got the blue suit and a grey suit, and their casual [look is] jeans or khakis and a button down with rolled-up sleeves. There is a uniform, and nobody judges for the most part.
"As a woman in these public-facing jobs, whether it’s a U.S. House member or a CEO or a trial lawyer or a president of a nonprofit, people notice [what you wear]. I would like to say it’s getting better, but I’m not sure it is. When I started in politics in the early '90s, there was a uniform for the ladies: the basic pantsuit, a string of pearls, and a very specific short haircut. Today, there is much more flexibility and diversity, whether it's dresses, skirts, or pants, or colors, or hairdos. But the problem is we're still talking about it. And the cost to make sure you’ve got all those things can be a hinderance."
On how to ask for (more) money:
"You've got to make a case for support. When you’re a candidate, you’re asking for an investment in a vision for the future. You’re asking that donor to invest in change, invest in new policies, invest in a new future. You are giving the donor an opportunity to make a difference. Give them the opportunity to say yes or no. And by the way, a 'no' today does not mean a 'no' tomorrow."
On the false narrative of"balancing" life and a high-stress job:
"I don't really embrace the concept of work-life balance. I work a lot, and I love it. Now that I'm getting a little older, I'm working to make a little more time to spend with my family. But I'm really fulfilled in the work. Balance, to me, is not the right language. To me, it's: Are you content? Are you happy? Are you engaged? Are you fulfilled? Those are really the measurements of life.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.