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From Boardroom to Ballot: How One Group Is Getting More Women to Run for Office

Following the 2018 midterm elections, the U.S. has more women than ever in Congress: 125 women won seats to the House or Senate. Thousands more ran.

But we have a long way to go until we reach gender parity. Women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level of government—they are just 23.7% of Congress despite last year’s big wins.

The problem isn’t that women don’t win—it’s that they don’t run at the same rate as men.

That’s where She Should Run comes in. The organization has found that while thousands of women consider a run for office, only 13% actually file the paperwork needed to run—meaning that to see one woman run for office, eight need to consider the possibility. In other words, to reach gender parity in public office in our lifetime, 1 million women need to explore a run for office.

One of the biggest obstacles for women is imposter syndrome, letting doubt prevent them from running, questioning whether they are qualified, know the issues well enough, or if they can afford to run, according to She Should Run founder Erin Loos Cutraro. This is despite history showing that a background in politics is not necessary to run, win, and effect change. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for instance, demonstrated this in the last election, going from working as a bartender to winning her race and sitting on important House committees on financial services and oversight and reform.

“She should run helps them see what is possible,” Cutraro told Fortune. “When women get clear on their why that helps everything else fall into place, connecting the current fire in the belly with leadership roles.”

While She Should Run has already seen more than 16,000 women go through its incubator program since 2016, it will take a lot more than that to create a large enough pool of women. To increase that pipeline, the organization is now focusing on meeting women where they are—at their current jobs.

 

They are now calling on companies to play their own role in helping women meet their leadership potential—in the private and public sectors. She Should Run is partnering with companies like MZ Wallace, Birchbox, and Lingua Franca to educate and motivate women through a new program called She Should Run Professional Development Series.

The series has two tracks of engagement. The first, combating imposter syndrome, focuses on helping women identify their personal barriers and the steps they need to overcome them. It is also about getting clear on their why, helping women see the differences they can make in elected office. Cutraro explained to Fortune that women comprise the majority of volunteers, voters, and philanthropic donors, but they’re not the majority of individuals running for office. So they have to make women understand that if we want to see the smartest policies, we need women equally represented.

The second track is around promoting equal representation, driving a wider conversation about the importance of women’s representation in office. This more educational facet seeks to encourage more people to join the conversation and gain a better understanding of the role they play. This includes naming the barriers women face real or imagined, overcoming them, and sincerely encouraging other women to run for office. 99% of public office roles are at the local level, Erin explained. And oftentimes these positions are not full-time. She Should Run hopes to bust the myth that running for office is a full-time job and allow women to understand that there are numerous ways to give back to their community—not just being elected to federal office.

The ultimate goal is to see 250,000 women run for office by 2030—but the companies that sign up for the workshops are bound to see positive effects for themselves as well. Erin noted that research shows that organizations that invest in women’s leadership see improved performance, increased profitability, and reduced turnover.

“Ultimately, getting women in office stands to benefit everyone,” Cutraro said.

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