Ladies First highlights women and girls who are making the world better for the rest of us.
Women are grossly underrepresented in US politics. The stats are startling: According to Rutgers University, fewer than one-fifth of the 535 seats in Congress are held by women. Erin Vilardi wants to change that.
Vilardi created VoteRunLead, a nonpartisan nonprofit that encourages women to take control of their political destiny by running for office. “I don’t believe there’s a gap in political ambition, I believe we are socializing girls and women out of their political ambition,” she tells us via email.
Founded in 2014, the organization has seen a spike in participation since the 2016 election. “A lot has changed,” Vilardi says. “Women realized they had to get involved and the barriers (to access) just didn’t seem to matter as much.”
Case in point: Over 1,000 women signed up for a recent VoteRunLead webinar. Events like these offer an educational starter kit of resources for women curious about running for office, including a directory of “10 Things to Know before Deciding to Run” and access to an online library. The organization also offers specific classes geared to address different elements of a political campaign, like “Rock Your Political Debate” and “Create Your Own Financial Plan”.
Besides addressing the obvious gender gap that exists in politics, Vilardi wants to get more women elected to office because of the sheer belief that women would do a better job in many government positions. She points to a study from Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics that shows that when elected to government, women are likelier than men to advance legislation that benefits the interests of women. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for women to recognize their inherent value as potential leaders.
“We need to ask women, over and over again, to consider public life because we are sending millions of messages every day that says they are more valued for their bodies than their brains, says Vilardi.” While this type of culture change isn’t easy, Vilardi is up for the challenge.
Just three years since being founded, VoteRunLead is already seeing results. Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar — a VoteRunLead alum — graced the cover of TIME magazine’s ”Women Firsts” edition, for becoming the first Somali American woman to be elected to any state legislature in the country. Ilhan Omar’s story illustrates the power of what VoteRunLead can do: empower a diverse group of women and help reshape government from the inside out. And that’s only the beginning. Omar is helping VoteRunLead during their 3-day #RunAsYouAre National Training that’s taking place November 17-19, where they hope to shape the future leaders.
“More women — of any party — leads to more dialogue and more transparency in government,” says Vilardi. “If there were more women in government you would see a broader decision with more constituents involved in the decision-making process and you would see better policies to protect our communities.”
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