She Should Run: Erin Loos Cutraro's Vision for Equal Representation - Jen Hatmaker

She Should Run: Erin Loos Cutraro’s Vision for Equal Representation

Episode 07

Erin Loos Cutraro has a vision some may describe as bold, but actually, it should be our reality: half of the people running for office should be women (and spoiler alert: women who run win at the same rates as men!). But often, starting when we’re little girls, women don’t see themselves as qualified leaders, or feel they don’t have enough experience, connections, or time to jump into the political arena. Erin is passionate about removing those perceived obstacles and clearing the path for more women to run for office—starting at the all-important local level (did you know 99% of elected offices are at the local level?). Erin launched She Should Run, a nonpartisan organization that encourages and equips women from all walks of life to run for office. Erin and Jen talk about why it’s so important to have policy makers with diverse experiences and backgrounds, and how we can start small by getting to know our local officials. Erin believes women participating in government is the key to solving systemic issues in our neighborhoods and our nation, which lifts up everyone. If you’ve ever thought you could bring a fresh perspective to the political landscape where you live and beyond, Erin’s here to tell you: you should—and can—run!

Episode Transcript

Narrator:  Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.

Jen:   Hey guys, Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show today.

As you probably know, we’re in the middle of a series called For the Love of Powerhouse Women, which is exactly what it sounds like. I am essentially having the good fortune to talk to a bunch of incredibly intelligent, incredibly powerful women doing very meaningful, important work in their fields, and I mean, I’m just fired up from all of them. They’re every one of them inspiring, and exciting.

And this whole series has just sort of re-sparked my imagination for what is possible, and not only what is possible, what’s already happening out there. We just tend to get so bogged down right now on one kind of story. The news cycle prefers a certain kind of story, and so what’s good to remember is that there is so much amazing work going on at this minute out there. It is not all doomsday. There are women out there changing the landscape of their careers and of their fields.

My next guest is quite literally changing the world. I’m not kidding—she is. She’s changing the way it looks, the way it listens to other people, the voices it gives power and credence to. I’m excited to introduce you today to Erin Loos Cutraro.

Erin is a very respected voice in the pursuit of gender equality for women. She is the founder and the CEO of an organization called She Should Run. She Should Run is this transformative, nonpartisan, obviously, organization that encourages women from all walks of life to run for public office.

So since 2011, Erin’s efforts have inspired almost 40,000 women to run for office. Isn’t that amazing? Then another 16,000 women have taken their first step toward a run through another of Erin’s programs called The Incubator, which we’re going to talk about, which is also something she built from the ground up.

I cannot wait for some of you guys to hear this. I just know that some of my listeners today are going to want to grab onto this space with both hands.

She Should Run—I’m going to ask Erin about this—currently has a vision to see 250,000 women running for office by the year 2030. That’s not that far away, and she’ll explain why she picked that number, it’s not a random number. Can you imagine a world where there are 250,000 women in our country making decisions on both a local and a federal scale? Things would be so different. So, so, so different. Erin and I talk a little bit about what it means to be underrepresented in politics, and then how that affects everybody. This isn’t just for women. This is for our whole community, our whole culture.

Erin’s an entrepreneur. She’s also a business strategist. Fun fact: in 2016, she actually partnered with Mattel to create the 2016 presidential Barbie and vice presidential Barbie, so that’s hilarious.

She began her career as a teacher, same as me. She taught sixth grade. Her career path carried her into the nonprofit world, and the financial world, and then led her into the world of politics. She says that her two daughters are her daily reminders to continue the fight for gender equality for women and girls, specifically unlocking barriers and supporting their leadership opportunities.

This is an exciting conversation today, you guys. It is full of promise, it is full of hope, it is full of optimism and excitement, and you are going to be so glad that you downloaded today. Please enjoy this conversation with the very wonderful Erin Loos Cutraro.

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Jen: Okay. Erin, welcome to the For the Love Podcast. I’m really delighted to have you on today.

Erin: Thank you, Jen. It’s great to be here.

Jen: Yeah, I can’t wait for my listeners to just get to know you over the next bit. The work that you’re doing right now is so exciting to me. And it just reminds me of course how it felt at the midterms to just watch woman after woman get elected, which we’ll get to that. You’re doing work that matters right now.

I’ve told my listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do, and we’re going to get way into that. But if you will let me, I would love to roll it back to the beginning for just a minute and learn about young Erin, and what were you noticing about the world back then? And I wonder if this was embedded in you. Were you noticing how girls and boys were treated differently? Were you noticing that women and men in your life had different roles or different responsibilities? I’m curious how early this started for you.

Erin: Yeah, I mean, I think it did start early. It’s what you’re exposed to.

For me, I’m a Midwestern girl. I was born and raised in Missouri, and primarily by a single mom. My mom was my everything. She raised my sister and I with what never felt like a struggle in the day, but in looking back on it, a heroic effort for her to just to get by every day.

For me, I think what I noticed very early is just the strong women in my life who were getting it done in all sorts of ways. I did not grow up in a political family. Politics was not something that we talked about over dinner at night. It’s certainly not something that even around elections was something that we found as core to our conversations as a family. It was really more about the difference that you can make in people’s lives in the way you live every day. For me, it was just this high exposure to women who were getting it done.

Jen: As you grew up and became an adult, was there a moment, was there a spark, was there an experience that said, You should be the one. You’re the one to start an organization to help women find their way into politics? Or was it more a slow burn? And then, how did you even know where to begin, or how to start, or did you know that? Maybe you didn’t know anything. Maybe you went in blind, like most of us do when we start something new and big.

Erin: I went in not knowing exactly where this was going. I’m not somebody—still to this day, I’m not somebody who loves the spotlight, so it was never going to be about what I was going to do, but what I always had, and even as a young child, I always had a curiosity.

I got my undergraduate degree in education. I was actually a sixth grade teacher for a few years before I started asking lots of questions about the education system, and what lever we could pull to make a difference for as many kids in schools as possible. That pulled me into the next phase of my life when I got my master’s degree in organizational learning and development, again, because I was curious. I wanted to see how people learned, how people thought, how systems worked.

If you skip over a whole bunch of years there and what it was about starting this entity, it was a curiosity, and it was an impatience. I didn’t work in politics my whole career up to the point of starting She Should Run, but I had been working in politics for a number of years, and I just was so impatient with the numbers. I’d see the insane effort that was going into supporting women running for office up and down the ticket every election cycle.

Prior to our most recent election cycle, the story was always maybe we ticked forward one percentage point in the overall percentage of women serving. Maybe we went backwards. It just felt like, Wow, is there anything else that we can add to this landscape that would be of value? There was just something, a fire in my belly, that said, Yes.

Jen: This is a question, of course, a lot of us are asking right now, and with such massive implications to the way our society and culture is working, but I’d really like to hear your answer, specifically. What are the key challenges that we face when women and minorities and differently-abled people and other underrepresented groups are not elected to government positions? What are the implications of this?

Erin: I mean, the short of it is, we don’t have the smartest policies that we can in this country. We’re missing out. I always look at it like we’re missing out on this huge talent pool: women, and minorities, and as you said, differently-abled people. Anyone who has a different experience in this world, a different perspective, has something of value to bring to policy making.

If you only have one slice of the country represented, albeit an important slice, you want to see all of the slices represented, so that when you’re deciding to bring it to a local level, you’re deciding how a school board governs and the decisions that are going to be made for a school district, that those decisions aren’t being made with just people who experience one type of life in mind. It’s really about missing a talent pool.

Jen: I have a good friend named Latasha Morrison, and she runs a huge organization called Be the Bridge, and her work centers on racial equality and racial justice reconciliation, and she always says that if you’ve got two candidates who are on their face similarly qualified, in her world, she’s like, “Just having a black candidate, that is elevated, because simply being black is a gift to the room.” Just that. The lived experience of that person, their perspective, their understanding of different angles of whatever that organization is and does and who they serve and how, and so you’re right. It’s just simply an entirely new angle for everyone’s betterment.

Erin: That’s right.

Jen: That lifts every boat in the harbor.

Erin: That’s right, and that’s what’s been so interesting about working in a gendered space. So working in a space where we’re talking about women, and the need for more women and girls to rise into positions of political leadership, that often the conversation becomes about why this is . . . or the questions become about, “Why is this helpful to women?”

It’s helpful to everyone. We are all smarter for that experience. We’re all smarter when we have tapped that full talent pool, when we’re thinking about how to solve complicated issues. You want that. We all should want that.

Jen: Absolutely. I am very inspired by and loved reading about your program, The Incubator. I think this is innovative and fabulous work. Can you talk about how The Incubator program came about, and then why it’s important, and then the impact that it’s having in communities across the country?

Erin: Absolutely. The Incubator is a great testament to curiosity as well. I started the organization in 2011 around a really simple program that we still run that is incredibly important, that’s our Ask a Woman to Run program. It’s a really simple vehicle where anyone who wants to get involved in seeing more women rise into elected roles in this country can come to She Should Run and tell us about a great woman who should lead.

A lot of the really important training programs that are out there that are kind of one-on-one training programs and beyond, I should say, on how to fundraise, how to build a media plan, all of that. It’s incredibly important work. It is actually not the work that She Should Run does.

What I was doing in this period a few years prior to 2016 was looking at or constantly demystifying the landscape for women who are coming into the She Should Run community. What I saw, my hunch was, there was a step we were missing. I started to survey political directors from all sorts of political parties, and players in the landscape to say basically, “How do you get women into your program?”

So you have often, many of them were describing these 80% of women who were in the room who it felt so good to have a full room, but yes, the conversion was 20% actually signed up. I went, “Okay, let’s talk about that 80%.”

For us, we started to look at for those women who are curious about running for office, maybe are encouraged to run for office, but are not yet ready to take that next bigger commitment, what could we provide? What would be of value? So we surveyed, we focus grouped, we did these wonderful things we called think-ins, where we intentionally talked to women outside of politics—women who were change-makers in their communities, in their workplaces, in their homes—and we said, “Here are the resources. If somebody were to encourage you to run for office, what would you do?” Many of them said, “Ooh, I don’t see myself in that.” It didn’t feel like an approachable starting place.

From that, we curated all the resources that we could find that connected the dots between leadership and politics. We built what is now a She Should Run Incubator.

Jen: Oh, it’s so good, just sort of a bridge, which is true.

Erin: It’s a bridge, right.

Jen: That’s a useful bridge for most people who are trying to imagine a new vision for her life.

Jen:   I love your goal, Erin. You have said, and of course this is your big platform right now, that you’d like to increase the number of women running for office to 250,000 by the year 2030. I mean, that’s no joke. That is a no joke number.

Erin: We plan big!

Jen: It gives me goosebumps. I’m a big dreamer and a big go-for-the-gusto type too. I’m curious if 250,000, is that an arbitrary number, or a very highly calculated one? And then if you could just project and predict, I mean, how do you imagine our culture would be different? If your vision comes to fruition, if in the year 2030 we have 250,000 women run for office or more, what do you think that looks like?

Erin: Yeah. We know that there are just over 500,000 elected offices in the country, and so our vision as an organization is that the ballots in this country are representative of the population. That would mean that we would have 250,000 women in the pipeline on the ballot.

The research is really clear on this, that starting at a very young age. So I have two daughters. One’s seven, one’s nine. So starting just about where my nine-year-old is, girls are less likely to raise their hands. When asked, “What does an elected leader look like?” they don’t see themselves there. Our vision is about all women seeing what’s possible and at least half of the ballots in this country being represented of the population in this country and its great diversity within just women.

What we have been able to see is that for every one woman who finds her way to the ballot from that place of “Maybe me some day,” it takes eight women seriously considering it.

Jen: Wow. Gosh.

Erin: Quickly do the math on it, we actually need 2 million women thinking seriously thinking about running for office to see the change and close that gap in our country.

Jen: That’s an audacious goal, but a good one and an important one. I’m curious how you structure inside your organization, obviously the umbrella over the org is women. “Let’s get women into office.” Do you have subcategories for intersectionality here? Do you work on having women of color? Do you work on having women in the LGBTQ community and so on?

Erin: Yes, absolutely. We find that because we sit in that space of, you can call it being a lead-finder for other organizations who are doing the very important work, the very hands-on work when somebody decides they are a candidate, that we have to put out into the world is what we want to see. So we are very intentional in what we message, the stories that we tell, to tell the stories of women from all types of backgrounds, from all races and ethnicities and to ensure that we don’t miss the opportunity to be that source of kind of battling what we know women are up against, which is like “if you don’t see it, you can’t be it.” And so we’re showing it.

Jen: That’s great.

Erin: And sometimes that’s a harder story to tell. And by the way, there’s also even diversity within, obviously, political affiliations.

Jen: Sure. Of course.

Erin: And so we have to go above and beyond and out of our way to not tell just the obvious stories, but to tell the stories of women from all walks of life, from all backgrounds so that we can see a different pool.

And then from that storytelling place, the next phase of our work is we have our kind of bigger Incubator program that anyone, so any of your listeners who have ever thought about running for office or have been encouraged and are just looking for that place to peek behind the curtain, this is the place to do it.

And I think the next phase of our work—we’re getting a lot of interest in it—is just to take that one step further. And people who have what can feel like really lonely experiences if they’re coming from what they feel like is a small percentage of the population.

Jen: Sure.

Erin: How do they find their people? And us taking that next step, which was what you’ll see from us in 2020 and beyond, I’m sure, and even deeper ways is just to how to get these women better connected, because it can feel so lonely, but we have technology now that can make that process so much easier and so much less lonely.

Jen: That’s a great point.

Erin: Yeah.

Jen: You know, I think backward to just the suffrage movement and how long it took women to work cohesively to even just get the right to vote.

Erin: Yeah.

Jen: And even that was incomplete, of course. And so I’m thinking it’s such an interesting time to be a woman right now. And I’m looking sideways at other movements that have a lot of momentum, a lot of shared storytelling and shared experiences like the Me Too movement, of course, and Time’s Up. And I’m wondering if you think, or if you’ve even noticed inside your own organization, if those movements have had any impact on encouraging women to run for office. Are these, any of the stories that you’re hearing come in, as impetus for kind of throwing their hat in the ring?

Erin: Yes. One thing has always been true of women is we have a drive to get things done. Even before there was ability for us to find one another and share those stories, the work was still happening. The spotlight wasn’t there, and it can feel really lonely.

And what we have found in our community is that as women share, whatever experience that is, as they’re sharing, you referenced Me Too, as they find this vehicle and this courage to talk about really hard experiences and to do so knowing that there’s a community of women—and men, for that matter— who are out there to hear them, to listen and to say we can do better, will naturally move you to a place of saying, “We can do better. What more can we do?”

And I think as women naturally go to this place of being problem-solvers, policy-making is this incredible mover of the things that we care about in our lives.

Jen: Right.

Erin: And it’s really, you look at it, and I always make this case, pick your issue that you care about, whatever that is. If you are not involved with or understand the policy that have implications to move that issue, you’re missing the boat to accelerate whatever change you want to see. We’re all looking for this right now. We’re all strapped for time, right? It’s like, what’s the lever I can pull that is going to make as much good as possible? And you have to have policymaking in your portfolio or your eye on it in some way if you want to see issues move forward.

And so I’m never surprised to see when there’s big conversation, and we do see it, around any major conversation that involves women or something that we’re struggling with collectively that we then see women’s stepping up in droves to say, “Okay, tell me more about running for office.”

Jen: That’s great. I’m thinking about women who are listening right now, and when we think about She Should Run, my brain tends toward, okay, we’ve got these women really in the front lines right now that we’re seeing. They’re in the House of Representatives. We’re talking about senators, we’re talking about presidential candidates, of course, right now. But the truth is, that’s going to be a very small percentage of elected officials in the country. So maybe women don’t feel equipped to run for president or governor or mayor, maybe, the big ones. But local government affects us far more than most people ever think about or realize.

And so I’m curious from your perspective, if we want to affect change at the local level, like you were just talking about, what are some key positions that women should consider?

Erin: Yeah. Look, the sky’s the limit. Yes. Let me just further amplify and maybe open up some minds to what is possible for elected office in this country that isn’t federal office. And that is not my way of saying that women shouldn’t go for running for federal office. They absolutely should.

Jen: Right. Right. Yes and yes. It’s all yes.

Erin: Yes and yes. That is a given. And with over 500,000 elected offices in our country, over 99% of those are at the local level.

Jen: Exactly.

Erin: Yet our conversation is heavily, heavily skewed toward—and money in politics is heavily skewed toward—the select few who are running for federal office. And to your point, the reality is that the day to day, it’s how our towns are run, how our roads look, what the health and quality of our water, you name it. In your what are you touching and feeling everyday, there is a component that is tied to what is happening in your local community.

And the positions are called different things, but we always say, and we start this with our incubator too, in mapping out, and it’s not easy to do, by the way. Mapping out who your local elected officials are. Many of us aren’t thinking about this until basically the ballot’s in front of us and we’re saying, “Who is this person?”

Jen: That’s true.

Erin: “What are they responsible for?” And that’s, by the way, I always like to say, “Hold up.” That’s most everyone. There are only a few people in this country who approach that differently. And I think it’s something that needs a fundamental shift. We should know who our local elected leaders are. You should know who your town mayor is, especially if that person is accessible. And they work for you, by the way.

Jen: That’s right.

Erin: Getting to know who they are and what they’re responsible for. If you have a council, I happen to live in a relatively small town. We have an incredibly involved town council that advocates for a whole host of issues that matter to me, to the schools that my kids attend and beyond. So looking at school boards, looking at those council roles, what you can do is you can think about, What are the issues that I have a fire in my belly about that are going to get me out of bed every day? And find out who of your elected officials has responsibility for some component of that, and go make a point to get to know that person and understand their role. And that work is not easy.

Jen: Right.

Erin: It is not highly accessible to us. And I think that a lot of people step away from politics, especially at the local level, for that reason, because you feel like you should know more than you do.

Jen: Right.

Erin: And then somebody else is in the know. And the reality is they aren’t.

Jen: Hmm. Yeah, that’s a great point. I appreciate how you sort of demystify some of the connections and our accessibility to our elected leaders. You are right, they work for us. We always get that backwards.

Erin: Right.

Jen: And it feels intimidating or unapproachable, but that’s not the way that it was set up to be. And so I appreciate you just saying it’s just follow your up-link and make an appointment. That’s really not that enormous of a mystery, and then see if maybe you have a higher point of contribution.

So as I think about women listening and even considering this, obviously running for office is no small thing, really in any context. It’s never a really simple or small thing. And so I’m sure for somebody listening, it sounds to them like they are signing up to run 10 straight marathons, which maybe it kind of is. From your perspective, before a woman commits to running for office—and I realize I’m asking for a soundbite to what would be a much more complex conversation—but what are a handful, perhaps, of steps a woman should take to set herself up for success as she considers running for office? Are there any tried and true tips that she should follow or at least begin with?

Erin: Yep, absolutely. Well, I won’t miss the opportunity to say to sign up for the She Should Run Incubator because that is what we help walk women through.

Jen: Yes.

Erin: Look, I think you cannot miss this step of really exploring what it is you have passion for. What change do you want to see?

But what is that problem you want to solve? What’s that thing that either you find yourself just feeling like you can’t believe that you don’t know more about your local community and what’s happening in your local community. And maybe that’s because your local elected officials are detached. Maybe it’s because you should start asking questions about that. If it’s climate that’s your issue, if it’s the whole host of your schools matter, whatever it is that you feel like this is the thing that really matters. Is it representation? Because that’s okay too.

Jen: That’s good.

Erin: I think starting in a place of knowing what your fire in the belly is, then figuring out where are these, as we call it, power mapping.

It’s not just your elected officials, but who are the probably unofficial gatekeepers? Who are your local community? Who are the king and queen makers that are recruiting individuals to run for office? Sometimes these people are involved in local parties, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re political owners.

You want to know who those individuals are because you don’t want to introduce yourself after you’re running for office.

Jen: Absolutely.

Erin: You want to get to know them ahead at a time. So mapping out who people are, establishing yourself within those circles. So don’t miss the opportunity and run for town council if you’ve never shown up to a town council meeting.

Jen: Great point.

Erin: Those things, by the way, that’s not uncommon, but talk about putting you in a position of power and real thoughtfulness and authenticity for your future constituents is you want to have a little bit of a track record there. It doesn’t have to be—now this is where I always have to pause and say for women, this doesn’t mean wait 10 years, that you have to prove yourself.

Jen: Right.

Erin: It means that you want to do your due diligence and that that can happen as quickly as it needs to happen. If you want to run for office in six months, that can happen incredibly fast. If you feel like, Nope, you know, this is something I want to think about three to five years, you can slow that down a little bit. But figuring out who the people are you need to know, knowing what it is that is the fire in the belly that’s gonna make you want to do the hard work.

And then money is a factor.

Jen: That’s right.

Erin: The last one that I’ll point out is no matter what office you run for, there is going to be some element of you needing to have skin in the game in terms of money that you can raise to support building, and that’s all about building your name recognition, by the way. You raise money in order to get your name out there. And women traditionally have a hesitancy around this, though they raise just as much money as men. They have hesitancy around raising money. And so if you’re somebody who’s really coming to this for the first time, I always say pick a cause. Pick a cause, pick a goal, go raise some money for that. At whatever level, know that if you run for super local office, you may need to raise, hundreds of dollars, $1,000. It’s not going to be the million dollars or plus that you hear federal offices.

Jen: Right.

Erin: But you don’t want once you’ve established yourself as a candidate to be the first time that you’ve asked somebody for money for a cause that you believe in.

Jen:  She Should Run occupies a little bit of rare air right now in that you are running an organization with political goals, but it is bi-partisan. So wow, we didn’t know that was possible. You’re a unicorn. Obviously this matters to you want women in all places and in both parties, and I love that.

So from that angle, as someone who works with civil servants and women running for office across the aisle and having all these women in the Incubator together, you are at the helm of a lot of discussion across ideology.

Erin: Yes.

Jen: So how would you just suggest to us, as citizens, what are some of the practices that we can adopt to have civil discussions across party lines with our neighbors and family members who have different ideas about how the country should be run? And how do we both share our ideas and learn from one another’s ideas in a way that doesn’t just burn the whole thing to the ground? Which is what I feel is what we see in the news cycle every single day.

Erin: And it’s so exhausting.

Jen: It’s exhausting.

Erin: And I don’t know, I honestly, I often feel this pressure of why would anyone want to run for office when—

Jen: Right.

Erin: Right? When this is what you’re seeing day in and day out in politics. It’s so hard to take. Watching women even, across the board, being questioned because they’re women in ways that men would never be questioned and their families being attacked.

Jen: Right. sure.

Erin: It makes for a really hard case to turn around and say, “Okay, now I really want you! I want you to really think about running for office.”

But the reality is, in order for us to have a healthy democracy in this country, we have to have individuals from all political backgrounds represented, and we have to have women represented at at least 50% in this country.

Most of what is happening in governance, in public service is not that highly polarized political discussion. It’s the hard work that’s getting done unnoticed, behind closed doors, to make our communities stronger. Most of the individuals who are running for [public service] roles are not running because they are about a party first or about only one issue. They’re about making a difference for the better.

Those are the stories. It’s really hard to break through with that story because of where our news cycle is and because of how we get our information now. But we have moved so far away from what it means to be a public servant and celebrating that and the hard work that is often underpaid—paid most of the time, but grossly underpaid—for what people are giving in terms of their time and resource to making their communities better.

I think that never before has there been a more important time for us to have spaces that are not about political party or about a single issue, but they are instead about us moving this country forward in a way that is opening pathways for 50% of the population. In order for us to get there there, I wish there was one answer, but I would say the most important around civil discussion is listening. Right? We have to be able to listen.

Look, I’ll tell you, in the She Should Run community, we have interesting bedfellows, people who believe very different things. I feel incredibly lucky to wake up every day and be able to offer a community where it isn’t this place where you can only talk to people who believe the same things that you do and that we’re forced into a position of listening, because it’s always the great lesson. I mean, this is school teacher me coming back out of when we serve, when women, when anyone serves in an elected role, your constituents don’t all think exactly the same. You are representing them. So you have to have the ability to hear differing opinions and to make the smartest decision about how to move forward for the collective good.

That’s not easy work and you cannot do it unless you learn to listen. I think all of us stand to sort of put down the weapons that we all sort of raise as soon as we hear a word or we see the look in the eye and know that most people are coming to this . . . most people come to conversations with good hearts and so how can we find that? We have to listen.

Jen: You mentioned your daughters earlier. I’ve got daughters also. So I think about our girls growing up and for most of them, the classroom and the hallways at school are the places where they begin to feel their confidence crumble. That’s usually the beginning of that story in their lives.

So I’m curious, how old should our girls be when we start checking in with them to make sure that they are confident in their abilities to learn, in their abilities to lead? Specifically when I think about sort of preteen girls moving on up through middle and high school, how do we support them here? How do we start this conversation young, so they’re not having to relearn it when they’re 41, right? How do we get the engine going when they’re young and fresh and full of optimism?

Erin: Yeah. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to that. I certainly live everyday seeing the real challenge that we face just in parenting and time and attention. But I think there is no “too young” to start with what we’re exposing our girls to. I think assumptions can play a big role.

It’s kind of back to this. Let us not assume what is possible for especially the girls in our lives. Society will make a lot of assumptions for them. We’re still in a place where, whether or not we want to admit it, that a lot of the messages that girls receive starting from a very young age is that there’s only certain paths for them. There’s a certain way to be a girl. There’s all the way to there’s a certain color you can wear. “If you’re a girl, then you are these things.”

Even in doing the work that I do, I have to check myself regularly on this, of helping to get into a place of when my daughters are imagining a new reality for something they want to do, for me, not being in the position of saying, “Oh no, you can’t do that.”

And instead, in living in their space and their imagination. You see that in play with girls and what they can dream up and what they can make up and all the way to, I obviously have younger daughters now, but just in watching, which does happen, the confidence questions, the questioning that happens when they’re walking out the door in the morning.

My daughters are very different, but one definitely does raise more questions than the other around “Can I? Should I?” I think just being as supportive as we possibly can to hear that, to not make girls feel like that’s not relevant, okay, questioning to do, but then to also push them forward.

So one of the things I always like to point out, too, is there is great research showing how important team sports are for girls. They’re not the only answer, but that learning of competition and an exposure to failing. You win, you lose a game. The collaboration that happens on a team is something that very clearly is related to research that we’re seeing on how women are rising into leadership roles later in life and whether or not they had that exposure as kids. I actually don’t have kids who are terribly into team sports. You can’t force it. I’m learning that the hard way.

Jen: But it’s a great idea.

Erin: Yeah. The research is there.

Jen: But there’s a lot of ways to be on a team, too. I’m sure it’s probably keyed in towards sports, but there’s other really interesting ways for our girls to find a team dynamic in their areas of interests that aren’t necessarily athletic, but still require a lot of collaboration and a lot of leadership skills. I’ve got one of those. I’ve got a 19-year-old who never loved sports, but she does love a team. So she made her own. She made up her own groups in high school and appointed herself the leader. So I’m like, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

Erin: That’s right.

Jen: Obviously this year’s Congress has the most elected women in the US House of Representatives than ever, in history, 106 and 25 Senators, which I feel like that just was so exciting to watch at midterms. It felt energizing and hopeful. To your point earlier, you just said, “Golly,” at the beginning of the genesis of your career, you’re like, “We’re barely making strides. It’s taken forever, a 1% increase after all this work.” So for a lot of us watching that, it felt like, “Wow. Like, this is literal progress. We’re watching it in real time in history.”

So I’m curious, as you sort of watch that representation rise, do you look at those numbers and say, “Yes, we are making a difference.” Or do you look at them and say, “We have a really long way to go still.” Or is it both?

Erin: Yeah, it’s definitely both. I always have this after each election cycle. This last one I think being the clearest example of it. So many incredible stories and celebrate, so many incredible women of color who that’s probably I think the greatest story of celebration, out of the last election cycle at the highest level, is our giant step forward in diversifying congress when it comes to women of color.

I will say, I think you cannot tell the story of the great steps that we made forward without also noting though that we further polarized the division within political party when it comes to women. So Republican women actually took a step back in terms of representation in this last election cycle. So it’s not a clean shot story of forward progress in terms of making sure that all women in this country are represented.
I also, and it always kind of comes with a sad trombone behind it, of saying we have a long way to go. We have a long way to go.

Jen: Sure. They’re still low numbers.

Erin: These numbers are still low. We still represent less than a third of elected rolls up and down the ticket across the country. I see this in the work of She Should Run too. I wake up everyday with sweats over, “Are people going to feel just too fatigued to continue having this conversation around getting more women into roles of elected leadership when the very reality is this is our moment when we need to step on the gas?”

This is the moment when we have made some progress and we need to now double down and not just be thinking about the women who are going to run in 2020, but to think about our girls in our households, our friends, our colleagues who are not thinking about running but should run in future election cycles who aren’t thinking about it right now. They’re not seeing themselves as elected roles. They’re thinking, Okay I don’t have time to even consider that right now. How do we be become part of the ecosystem that changes that? That’s what keeps me going everyday.

Jen: That’s great. I love this questions. You have any predictions or hopes for the 2020 election?

Erin: Whew! I think it’s going to be a wild year.

Jen: No question. Wild is the right adjective, that feels like a good reach.

Erin: Think we’re are already there. I think that we, and we’re seeing this within our community, we will see a record number of women on the ballot. We will, I hope, also expand and this is certainly what we’re working to do, to expand the conversation, not just about the women who are on the ballot, but the role that we all play in changing who our elected officials are, and as opposed to us feeling just like we want to shut it all down. Turn off the social media, turn off the TV, make it all go away, that we find our role, even if that role feels small and know that we are part of something so big right now in changing our democracy for the better in the country and that we all have to step up in order for that change to happen.

Jen: Fantastic.

Jen: So we’re wrapping up here and I’ve got three just sort of quick questions for you that we have asked all the women in the Powerhouse Women series and just kind of off the top of your head. So here’s the first one. What is something that a woman you admire taught you that you’ve never forgotten?

Erin: Oh, I would think too, I always think about my mom. I think about all of the ways that she pushed forward as a parent, parenting two young girls. Something she taught me was if something gets in your way, go around it. Don’t wait for somebody to open the door for you. You’re out of way around it. If it’s something that you really want, to go for it.

Jen: Oh, I love that. That’s hear, hear.

How about this, what specifically to you, what’s your greatest hope for the generation of women coming behind us? Our girls?

Erin: I hope that our work catches up with the imaginations of our girls. I hope that our generation is doing everything we possibly can to make that vision—that I think many girls have—which is that anything is possible, a reality.

Jen: Yes. Me too. Oh my gosh, same.

Here’s our last question. We actually ask every guest in every series this final question from an author that we love. Your answer can be whatever you want it to be. It can be really important and full of gravitas or it could be absolutely absurd. So it’s up to you. But the question is, what is saving your life right now?

Erin: I am going to say that I got, I’m not a dog person, but I recently was talked into getting a dog. My seven year old talked me into this.

Jen: I know about this. I’ve been here.

Erin: I know. There’s a lot of people out there who have been me. I am now dogs’ number one fan and the thing that I will say about this dog is that he has like a perma smile and I’m somebody who just needs a lot of laughter in my life. So when I have the opportunity to work from home especially, and I’m just feeling really, like I don’t know, how I’m going to get through the day and everything feels so heavy, this dog is always smiling. It actually makes me laugh.

Jen: That is hilarious. You are going to have to send us a picture of your dog so I can put it up on the transcript of this episode. What kind of dog is it?

Erin: He is a mini-Australian shepherd.

Jen: Oh, those are the dearest, the cutest, the happiest dogs. No wonder you’re in love. By the way, that’s exactly how this goes. I also got talked into a dog 11 years ago. It’s my dog. That’s my dog, under my feet, right this second, all the time. Follows me around like a stalker. So yes, that’s how it goes. You knew it when you went into it and so did I.

Erin: I did. I know.

Jen: That’s so great. Well listen, I really admire you Erin. It just encourages me to know that you and your organization are out there doing so much of this important heavy lifting. I know it’s heavy. I know this is hard. This is not easy work that you’ve engaged, that you have said, “Yes,” to. But it matters and impacts all the rest of us. So I am so delighted to have met you.

And I want my listeners to know that anybody who had your heart quicken a little bit as you were listening and this is something that may pique your own imagination and vision.We are going to put up all the links for She Should Run. Like Erin said, it could just be a little foothold in. I mean maybe you just start in The Incubator space and just start listening and learning and sort of curating information and then see what goes from there.

But I want to thank you for what you do for women and and ultimately what you’re doing for our culture. It’s not just for women, because as you’ve mentioned so beautifully, more women in representation is good for everybody. So cheering you on in every way, and thank you so much for your time and for coming on the show today.

Erin: Absolutely. Thank you, Jen. Thank you for the opportunity.

Jen: You’re welcome.

I found so many points in that discussion encouraging and so useful. Just it’s funny, we think about women running for office and we’re thinking about these big people that we see on our new cycles all the time, but like she said, 99% of it’s at the local level. This is accessible, this is possible.

And I loved how Erin reminded us that in the real world, down here at most of the levels that we would all serve in, in the local space, it’s not this bipartisan dumpster fire like we see all the time. That’s not the easy storyline to reach for. It’s way more cooperative than that. It was just encouraging like, “Gosh, there is another story to latch onto,” and ultimately to be a part of, you guys.

So anybody who listened today and thought, if you had any spark at all, be it the very first little tiny spark or this piled onto a conversation you’ve been having with yourself for some time, if you’ll go over to, underneath the podcast tab, pull up my episode with Erin and we will have everything linked for you, all of her sites, The Incubator, all of her social media spaces. Because like she said, maybe you just need a runway. That’s what The Incubator program is. So that’s like, “I just need to know more before I know more.” There’s room for you there in her organization and so anyway, we’ll have that for you. You know where to go.

We’ll also have, as always, the entire transcript of this episode written out. Sometimes it’s good to read it, sometimes you want to cut and paste a portion that you want to remember somewhere. So I do hope that you are using that incredible resource, because Amanda spends a ton of time on it every single week, making sure that you have awesome pullout quotes to use and extra resources and pictures and all kinds of bonus stuff. So go over there.

Hey, thank you guys for sharing the episodes that you love. That matters to us so much. We see when you do that, we see when you post links to your favorite episodes or you send them to your daughters or you send them to your moms or your best friends and say, “I think you should hear this.” We are so grateful for any time you bring new listeners into our community. We care about them. We promise to treat them with great love and respect, just like we do you. So also, if you haven’t already subscribed, go do it. It’ll take you five seconds and you’ll never have to look for another episode. It’ll just show up handy in your phone.

Grateful to Erin today for her time, for her energy, proud of her. Glad that our Erins in the world out there just literally making a difference.

Okay, you guys, more to come and you are not going to want to miss next week’s episode, I promise you that. See you next week guys.

Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!

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