Erin Loos Cutraro Is Building the Bench of Women Candidates

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- So, Erin: After more than 250 women appeared on congressional ballots in midterm elections this year, we’ll have a record number of women serving in Congress in 2019. Tell me about election night for you. Where were you, who were you with, what were you thinking as returns came in?

I was with my team, following the trends and capturing what was turning out. The story of the night was really about women.

We expected women to have a really strong showing. But the reality of it—seeing the results—that’s different.

Most definitely. I joked with people that I was breathing into a bag most of the night because we just weren’t certain how the electorate was going to respond to the variety of backgrounds that were offered, in terms for the women who made it to the ballot on Tuesday. And what the takeaway for me is: It’s clear there’s no one formula for a woman to run and win a race any longer. There’s a new playbook that emerged from this election cycle, a level of authenticity for women on the campaign trail that we’ve never seen before. So I think we’re really encouraged by what we saw. It tells a great story of what’s to come in election cycles that are ahead of us.

Why have there been so few women in elected office up to now? Especially as other areas of our culture change and become more welcoming to women, politics really hasn’t.

It has been really slow. I think, before this election cycle, we were ranked 102nd in the world in women’s representation in elected office. (Editor’s note: The U.S. ranks 104th in the world on women’s representation, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.) I think, after this election cycle, we’re gonna be in the 80s. So, making progress, but we still have a long way to go. Women’s leadership in elected office is key to the health of our democracy: Women are over 50 percent of the population, and we’re not at that point where we represent even a quarter of elected offices. The majority of support for women prior to She Should Run’s existence was really focused on the women who made it onto the ballot. If you look ahead, you can see pretty quickly that getting to parity for women’s representation in our lifetime isn’t there unless we also focus on building that bench. That’s where She Should Run fits in. We have a goal to get 250,000 women to run for office by 2030. It’s elections like this that will continue to grow the momentum of what we’re currently seeing.

Erin Loos Cutraro Is Building the Bench of Women Candidates

But why has the lack of women in elected office been so persistent?

Our political system was made by and is run by men. As we have seen and continue to see, women are less likely to be identified than men as future candidates; they’re less likely to see themselves as qualified to run. There have been some gains in industry, but if politics is lagging, it’s hard to get the same momentum because also of how divisive the topic of politics is in our country. I think we’re seeing a shift in that, though. I think you’re seeing a shift now in the enthusiasm and momentum coming out of this election cycle.

This is a great first step, but the real test—Bloomberg Businessweek’s Rebecca Greenfield wrote about this—is getting them reelected. It’s not a one-time thing. They need to be there to build up their power.

That’s right. We made tremendous gains this election cycle, but that was primarily on one side of the aisle. We have a lot of work to do to build up the bench of Republican women who are running and getting elected as well. So I think it is absolutely about reelection, but it’s also about building that bench and building it for all women, not just some.

How is it beneficial for all these women to work together? There’s not a lot in common between Nancy Pelosi, a Tea Party senator such as Deb Fischer, and a self-described socialist like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. How do you make it all work?

There’s only a small number of the over 500,000 elected offices that are federal offices. Most of the rest are in our communities, and a lot of these offices aren’t partisan in nature. I think that what’s really interesting to me is that women have community and shared experience. It is really different to run for office as a woman. You’re asked questions men wouldn’t be asked and held to a higher standard. I think—while that’s a challenge, most definitely—there’s also opportunity in that for women to come together. When she’s asked how she’s going to lead as a mother when she has four kids at home—in a way that a man never would be—this is something we can all rally around. There is a chance for women to come together.

Women have a place at the table on every kind of issue. And it’s not just Democrat vs. Republican—we shouldn’t pigeonhole women into just caring about “women’s issues” such as health care and education.

That’s right. There is no one policy issue you can point to in this country where there wouldn’t be value to have women at the table. We can’t shortchange the process and the value women add when we point to only one set of issues that women can legislate on.

Are you feeling any female presidential candidates for 2020?

I don’t pretend to know who will declare in the days, weeks, months ahead for 2020, but I do feel like we’re going to see a healthy list of women candidates for president. I’m hoping it’s on both sides of the aisle. That’s what we’re working towards, creating a space where that playing field is level.

Any women in particular that you’re watching, like Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand?

There’s a lot of rumors around Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, and maybe Nikki Haley. We’ll see if other names emerge.

Last question: If Hillary had won, would we be having this discussion?

It’s hard to say. I will tell you: What’s been clear since the 2016 election is that we’ve reached a point of a critical mass of women saying no more to the status quo and stepping up to be part of the solution. And the electorate is stepping up to help. I don’t know what the world would look like had we elected the first woman president. My guess is it would have become a little bit tougher for those of us who work to recruit women. I think people would have assumed mission accomplished, but we have a long way to go to see parity in this country. She Should Run is here to close the gap.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jillian Goodman at jgoodman74@bloomberg.net

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