Women currently hold just 18.5% of seats in the 113th Congress – 20 of 100 seats in the Senate, and 79 of 435 seats in the House. While this is more women in Congress than there has been before, it’s still far from representative of American when you consider that 50% of the population is female.
Why don’t more women run for office? In a 2013 study called “Girls Just Wanna Not Run,” political science professors Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox found that young women are less likely than young men to receive encouragement to run for office. And, young men are more likely to be socialized by their parents to think of politics as a career path. Another 2013 study by Political Parity found that the biggest obstacles to women running for office are fundraising, and support from their political party organizations.
A new organization called VoteRunLead, which launched last week, wants to change that. VoteRunLead is headed by Erin Vilardi, a veteran of the now-defunct White House Project, who started the VoteRunLead training program while Vice President of Programs at WHP. After the former organization closed its doors, Vilardi spun off VRL as its own nonprofit organization. VoteRunLead will work on recruiting and training women to run for office, but the group will focus exclusively on races at the state and local level, and will not also work on national-level races like other groups such as EMILY’s List or Women’s Campaign Fund.
“We know that women are more likely to run for office when they’re asked to run,” says Vilardi. So to reach their goal of recruiting women to run, VRL has launched an online campaign called “Invitation Nation,” where women can log on to their website and use a variety of tools, including e-cards and memes, to invite and ask women in their network to run for office. Vilardi says the group’s goal is 50,000 women invited by November, and they have already seen 3,000 invitations sent via their website since the campaign’s launch last week. And by 2016, the group wants to have 500,000 invited women in their database.
Once women are invited and recruited to run, VRL will then provide them with online and in-person training and education on how to mount a campaign and run for office. The group will offer an online membership community where women can access information about running, as well as both online and in-person training sessions. They plan to offer their first national training session to over 300 women this fall, and are launching weekly online webinars for women around the country who can’t travel to an in-person sessions.
“We want to reach out to diverse communities of women, women of color, women in rural communities, and really shift the perception of what a political leader looks like for women… We want to help women think beyond their power as voters, and think about their power as political leaders,” Vilardi told msnbc.
And where does the organization plan to go in the future, beyond 2014?
“By 2016, we want to be the largest network of women political leaders in the nation,” Vilardi says. “We never want to see a slate of candidates that are all male or a local council that’s all male again.”