Women are leaning into their political ambitions in record numbers, and we have the 2016 presidential campaign to thank for it. In the aftermath of the election, women are shattering the “confidence gap” that has long prevented them from even seriously considering elected office. EMILY’s List, an organization that recruits and supports progressive female candidates, says that since the election, 4,000 women — 4 times the number from the previous 22 months — have expressed a desire to do so.
“We have never seen this kind of interest in running for office,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock told New York Magazine. “We spend a lot of time begging women to run for office. This is unusual: to get women interested without trying to recruit them with numerous conversations.”
And with female representation in government stagnating — women only comprise 19% of Congress, 25% of state legislatures, and 12% of governorships — steering women into the pipeline is more crucial than ever. That’s because female candidates are not only more qualified on average, but they also win elections at around the same rate as their male counterparts when they do decide to run.
“If we were in a country where women didn’t feel there were obstacles in the way, we’d be in a country where there were an equal number of women and men running for office,” added Schriock.
And encouragingly, women are increasingly throwing their hats into the political ring post-November 8th. Here are some of the biggest reasons why:
Why Not Me?
Not only did the 2016 presidential election produce the country’s first female nominee of a major party, but it saw a candidate with no prior public service experience take office. In a counterintuitive way, this result has helped to remove an imposter syndrome impetus from qualified women who may have never considered running.
“If a rookie politician like Donald Trump can get to the White House, why not me?” wrote Christa Case Bryant in The Christian Science-Monitor.
Like the aforementioned “confidence gap,” there has historically followed an “ambition gap” that contributes to this lack of female ascension and visibility. Despite women’s education levels outpacing men’s, a dearth of women in high-level positions persists, largely due to unconscious and internalized gender biases.
And yet, Rachel Thomas of EMILY’s List asserts, “This election flipped a switch in women to really see themselves as political candidates.”
One might think that witnessing a woman fall short of the presidency might discourage women from trying to break glass ceilings. But instead of shying away from carrying that baton, women are proactively seeking to be the change they wish to see.
“If you think there are too many barriers to running, who the heck is going to remove them?” Wambu Kraal, a senior official with EMILY’s List, reinforced at a recent training.
Another motivation that these women carry is a desire to change the conversation around how society views female leaders — and media representation plays a significant role here. Not only do female characters speak less than men in film, but women are too often cast into submissive roles that perpetuate gender stereotypes.
“People aren’t born thinking women are too hormonal to do something — that’s a cultural thing, asserted Bonnie Casillas, a 23-year-old who wants to run for political office. “A lot of women are fed up with that.”
Issues That Matter
Lastly, the surge of women now considering a political career have a common tie that binds them: an eagerness to actively affect policy.
“I want to bring my own ideas to the table,” stated Brittany Shearer, an academic adviser at Old Dominion University.
And according to Erin Loos Cutraro, co-founder and CEO of She Should Run, there is a key differentiator between politically ambitious men and women: While the former can be attracted to power itself, the latter has a hunger to achieve specific policy results. And indeed, women are actually more legislatively effective than their male peers, sponsoring and passing more bills, as well as securing more funding for their constituents.
So with this newfound surge in potential female politicians, will we see the gender equality needle move in politics? It’s too early to tell, says Dr. Kelly Dittmar, an assistant political science professor at Rutgers University.
But Schriock is more bullish: “I see this as a new beginning. I think you’re going to see a new generation of women leaders rise up and change this country.”