Making the #ILookLikeAPolitician Movement

“You’re the hottest woman [at our office].” “Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky.” “Look at that face!” “She’s the best looking attorney general in the country.” “I like my girls chubby.” “What are your measurements?” “I’m going to treat you like a lady … now act like one.” Surprisingly, none of these are Tinder pick-up lines inspired by the “negging” strategy promoted by so-called “pick-up artists”. These are comments made about women in politics by their colleagues and opponents. The office in that first line? It’s the United States Senate.

At Running Start, we train young women to run for office and challenge them to change how we see women leaders with our #ILookLikeAPolitician social media campaign. With each #ILookLikeAPolitician post, they make the case that all young women look like leaders. And in our entry to the Project for Awesome video contest, we reached new audiences with this critical message.

But we can’t make this culture shift alone.

Because even though we equip the young women we train with the skills and confidence they need to defy stereotypes and expectations, it will take a larger movement to create a world that accepts and celebrates what they have to offer. In fact, some of our alums have faced incredibly inappropriate comments when they attain public office: “Hey, new girl.” “You look so young, you could be a teenager.” “You’re cute!” “I’d love to see nude photos of you.” And this isn’t idle chatter: research shows that when you talk about the appearance of a woman in politics, even positively, you reduce voter’s confidence in her qualifications.

Young women are listening, and some of them have told us that the prospect of being the object of remarks like these discourages them from pursuing political leadership. And many of the 10,000+ young women we’ve trained share that they didn’t see themselves as leaders before, in large part because so many of the political leaders they see around them don’t look like them. About half of our participants and trainers are women of color, who see even fewer role models representing them in politics. This is the classic “you can’t be what you can’t see” problem (as famously described by founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, and echoed by founder of The White House Project, Marie Wilson). Our #ILookLikeAPolitician campaign counteracts both the scarcity of existing role models and the sexism that turns women away from leading in politics. We’re harnessing the power of social media to shift the leadership narrative.

At the end of last year, Running Start took this effort to the next level by participating in the Project for Awesome, a video contest that raises money for charities. We released a video explaining the importance of what we do and we harnessed our network of alums and supporters to share it and vote for us so that we could compete for a grant. Although we didn’t win a grant, together, we accomplished an important goal. We added to the growing chorus of voices encouraging young women to run for office, which helps inspire more young women to get into politics and makes more people around them receptive to it. It’s exciting to know so many people supported our contest entry — knowing that we have so many backers renews our commitment to continue building the pipeline. There are young women who are hungry for the skills training and mentorship we offer, and we’re ready for them.

Please keep sharing our video and make videos of your own! Make a video telling us why you look like a politician and post it using #ILookLikeAPolitician. All of us together can make a stand for young women: our video and yours will declare that we believe in their power and abilities.

Running Start Communications Director Sara Blanco is a women’s empowerment advocate. She graduated from Swarthmore in 2012, where she studied English literature and gender and sexuality studies, and joined Running Start soon after. Currently pursuing a master of public policy at the George Washington University, Sara co-chairs their Women’s Leadership Fellows Program after participating last year. Sara lives in her hometown, Arlington, Virginia. Find her on twitter @sarablancosays.


As the country mourns George Floyd and too many other Black Americans who have been the victims of racism and police brutality, Running Start is angry and heartbroken.

In this moment, our commitment is to the young Black women who are integral to our community and our hope for a better future. As we know, conversations change depending on who’s at the table, which is why Running Start trains young women to run for political office. The great Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (the first Black woman elected to Congress) once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

That’s why Running Start can and will use our power to change what leadership looks like in this country. Our duty as an organization is to ensure that young Black women’s voices are heard. We will continue to work every day to ensure that Black women are strongly supported in the Running Start family, and that all Running Start participants are equipped not just to lead, but to be leaders in the fight against injustice and racism.

Running Start commits to:

  • Holding community forums to solicit feedback directly from our community (details of the first one below)
  • Including explicitly anti-racist curricula in each of our programs
  • Continuing a rigorous new monitoring & evaluation project to provide a sense of who is in our community, the effectiveness of our programs, and how to improve both
  • Adding racial justice resources to our online Network
  • Working with facilitators and mentors who reflect our community
  • Partnering with organizations and speakers that focus on uplifting marginalized communities. Some of the organizations we love include: Higher Heights for America, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Vote Lead Impact, Rebecca Thompson International
  • Making sure that we are reaching the Diversity & Inclusion standards we have set for ourselves by hiring a professional consultant on internal and external diversity, equity & inclusion efforts
  • Continuing to have this conversation and adding to this list

We invite all members of our community to continue this discussion with us at a Community Forum on Friday June 5th at 12:15 pm Eastern. RSVP here:

Training All Young Women to Run for Office Is My Life’s Work. Here’s Why.

By Sara Blanco

You can find Running Start’s official statement here.

As a Latina, I’ve felt at times that my presence is contingent. I am shaken, for example, by assertions that my own country, the United States, should not welcome people like me, the natural-born citizen children of immigrants. But on the balance, I am very lucky that I don’t experience existential terror due to individual and systemic anti-Black racism. Race is complicated, and my relationship to my own ethnicity is, too. My Latinx relatives who live in the US are not safe, not even from violence or death. But the scale of our fear of the consequences of racism, the intensity of it, the history behind it, are radically different from what Black and Afro-Latinx folks face. And so, we are certainly more safe.

With that in mind, I recognize that I have a responsibility to support Black people working hard for freedom from fear. And I can use my relative safety as a shelter that allows me to raise my voice, too. This is true when it comes to marching, when it comes to contacting elected officials, when it comes to amplifying the voices of Black people, when it comes to using the privilege of discretionary income to donate to Black organizations, and it’s true when it comes to my professional life.

I am an excellent example of that strange advice, “fake it till you make it.” Although I believe in authenticity, sometimes, you have to brace yourself to get started on something challenging. It’s like how forming your face into a smile can actually lift your mood. It started with a phone interview, where I gushed about how passionate I was about women’s political representation. Of course, I did care about this, in the abstract, but it wasn’t something I had any special interest in. I just needed an internship, and I needed an internship so that I could get a job — somewhere else, I assumed. Apparently, my performance was convincing, because Running Start welcomed me to the team.

And then, in a matter of weeks, it wasn’t a performance anymore. Running Start’s mission to make sure young women don’t fall through the cracks in the political leadership pipeline has become my life’s work. I’m only 30, so I suppose that might change, but I don’t think it will. Because even if my “day job” ever changes, this will remain central to my advocacy and philanthropy. Part of what has kept me hooked specifically to Running Start is our strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In many critical ways, we hold to it as a foundational value: in promoting our programs to young women from all kinds of backgrounds; in ensuring that we reflect who our young women are; in fostering community in our programs; and in taking very seriously the importance of data and evaluation so that we know how we’re doing.

It mattered, even back when I was starting out as an intern, when I shared a suggestion or critique that came from my experience and identity. Sometimes, that meant pointing out a snag that wasn’t really about me, but at the time, I was the only person of color in the room. That didn’t last long: as our organization has grown (at 8 staff members, we’ve almost tripled while I’ve been here), the mix of voices has grown more varied — as it should. I still feel that I can speak up and be heard, and I hope that’s something my newer colleagues feel, too. The frankness of some important discussions we’ve had suggests that they do.

These personal, internal matters in our organization are important. But there’s a wider impact, too. Striving for gender parity in political leadership isn’t meaningful unless we make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind. We train all young women to run for office, not just those who can easily access our programs or who have already been told (by their parents or by media message) that they can lead. And in this moment, we must turn our focus to young Black women, in particular. Conversations and decisions change depending on who’s at the table. The great Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm (the first Black woman elected to Congress) once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

That’s where Running Start can — and will — use our power to change what leadership looks like in this country. How much better if we all shove folding chairs under our arms — for ourselves and for each other — and insist that all of our voices are part of these important conversations.

Professional headshot of Sara Blanco.

Sara Blanco is the Program Director at Running Start. She has always been interested in women’s empowerment and became especially passionate about women’s political leadership upon joining the Running Start team. As a Latina, she’s particularly interested in empowering women of color to run for office. With Running Start, she has had the opportunity to speak to audiences large and small about women in politics and appreciates the small nonprofit experience of wearing many hats and doing every kind of work.

In 2018, Sara earned a Master of Public Policy at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University. At Trachtenberg, she was a fellow in the 2015–2016 Women’s Leadership Fellows (WLF) program and a co-chair the subsequent year. She graduated from Swarthmore College in 2012 with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She continues to live in her hometown of Arlington, Virginia, enjoying the adventure of DC life and working to bring young women to politics. Sara is a member of the Women’s Information Network, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, and has co-written an unpublished novella.

Sparked by COVID-19: Creativity and Collaboration.

By Susannah Wellford

If there is one thing Running Start is known for, it is our signature in-person programs. Literally all of our promotional materials talk about how our programs are hands-on and face-to-face. So it was more than a little unsettling when overnight our buzz words became the recipe for what not to do in the COVID-19 era. My staff was confronted with a total reset of how we think about what we do and how we create impact. But in those early days when we were still figuring out how to use Zoom and setting up our new offices in our bedrooms, I saw creativity light up my staff. Faced with change and disruption that is more complete than anything we have ever faced in our working lives, I have watched as they brainstormed new ideas to reach our participants that are not only great for this bizarre locked-in time, but which I anticipate we will use in perpetuity.

Our week-long in-person high school political leadership training we usually hold at Georgetown University? It has morphed into a six week online training that is highly interactive and preserves or improves upon many of the elements we love most about the program. Our signature networking receptions that introduce high-level DC power players to our young participants? They’ve become Zoom meetings with power players from around the world — and we can even pair mentors and up-and-coming young women in breakout rooms for a more personal experience. Mentor coffees? Once so hard to schedule, they are now much easier to set up — who doesn’t have time to spend half an hour in their living room talking to a young woman online about how to plot her leadership path? VIP Panel events? Where once geography limited our scope, now we can pull panelists from different time zones and audience members from around the globe.

We’re not alone — our friends in the women and politics world are right beside us in their response to this disruptive (and anxious) time. And we are thrilled to see so many of the groups in our field come together to share audiences and amplify each other’s work. College to Congress is offering free online classes to all college students affected by the pandemic, even if they aren’t already involved with their organization. Young Elected Officials Network (YEO) is partnering with us on a mentor panel with elected women in state office. IGNITE has shared a set of politics-themed Zoom backgrounds, and She Should Run is running a bookclub!

Below is a partial list of the great events coming up that our partners empowering women in politics are planning.

While this time is unsettling, inconvenient, and pretty scary, I find so much hope in the work my community is doing to make sure we lose no ground in our fight to raise women to greater power in this country. The pandemic only highlights how critical it is to involve all voices and experiences in policy and governance.

Headshot of Susannah Wellford, smiling, with a marble background.

Susannah Wellford founded two organizations to raise the political voice of young women: Running Start (which she now leads) and the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee. Susannah previously worked in the Clinton White House and for Senator Wyche Fowler, and is a graduate of UVA School of Law and Davidson College. She lives in Washington, DC with her twins.

How do I know #ILookLikeAPolitician?

Encouragement & Role Models

By Yolian Ogbu

“Your life has purpose.
Your story is important.
Your dreams count.
Your voice matters.
You were born to make an impact.”

This is an English translation of what my Eritrean immigrant parents would recite to me in their native language, Tigrinya, growing up. As a first-generation Eritrean-American, my parents’ courageous sacrifices to seek out the American Dream have taught me what resilience and fighting for your dreams truly means.

Imagine a young girl who, while her 10-year-old classmates were tap-dancing or juggling for our 5th-grade talent show, decided to write and give a speech to her elementary school student body on why she would one day become the President of the United States.

The author at the ceremony designating March 21st Yolian Ogbu Day.

Fast forward six years later and she’s the only teenager who would regularly attend city council meetings. As a fierce advocate for civic education, she had been a top speaker in the nation through an American Legion oratorical competition, and even had March 21st named after her in her hometown for her efforts!

Then, after participating in Running Start’s Elect Her training this past year, the then-19-year-old girl would go on to campaign and become the youngest Student Body President at the University of North Texas.

Now at 20 years old, not only does she get to represent over 31,000 students but she also serves as a Gen Z engagement director for a local city council campaign.

That little girl with big dreams is me!

Growing up, I’ve always heard the phrase, “you can’t be what you can’t see” and it was in 2018 when I saw Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Lauren Underwood being sworn into the United States House of Representatives that everything changed for me, that I really knew that I looked like a politician. The power of representation is truly indescribable. Thanks to organizations like Running Start that believe in this power, I have the confidence that one day I will be sworn into public office with my parents by my side.

Yolian Ogbu with Congresswoman Sharice Davids (left) at the Young Women to Watch Awards.

Competing at Running Start’s Young Women to Watch Awards was an inspiring experience. As a finalist for Running Start’s #ILookLikeAPolitician contest, I felt unwavering support at the event. I had just finished my speech and not only was I congratulated by Congresswoman Lauren Underwood for my leadership, but Congresswoman Sharice Davids even asked for a picture with me! Congresswoman Jahana Hayes came up to me and gave me an incredible pep talk saying that she couldn’t wait to see me in the halls of Congress and several other women mentioned their excitement for me being on a presidential ticket one day. Hearing all of these political leaders speak these moments into existence had me on cloud nine.

As Running Start’s newly elected #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador, I am excited to carry on the mission of empowering young women across the country to help them know that they have what it takes to be a politician. I am particularly proud to represent people like me: first-generation kids and Black women, to help them see that their voice matters and that they were born to make an impact.

Yolian Ogbu (center) on stage with last year’s #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador, Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah (left) and Running Start CEO & Founder, Susannah Wellford (right).

Our Unlikely Team Got a Young Woman Elected

By Leela Menon

Growing up, my family always told me I could be anything I wanted to be: “Though she be but little,” they would say, “she is fierce.” (That quote continues to inspire me.) From this encouragement, I immediately set my mind on saving the world (even if I didn’t know what I’d be saving it from).

After many rounds of trial and error, I found myself studying Environmental & Ecological Engineering because I wanted to save the world from the people living on it. I’m studying at Purdue University, a school full of amazing, passionate young people who are all trying to make their mark on the world.

Which is perfect, because I’ve always been drawn to people who have a passion that fuels them — people who share my same drive to change the world in a way that means something to them. So when I met Shannon Kang at a Running Start Elect Her training (organized by the university’s Department of Civic Engagement & Leadership Development), the fact that we ended up building a strong partnership shouldn’t have surprised me. But I didn’t quite realize the effect it would have on me.

As a 19-year-old political science student, Shannon set her sights on running for City Council so that a district that is home to students would be represented by an actual student. I knew I needed to get to know her better, and it wasn’t long after the workshop that she asked me to be her campaign manager.

It would be a struggle to find two people as different as Shannon and I are, working together. Maybe that’s why our team worked so well. Shannon is a natural-born leader who loves thinking about the big picture of representing her constituents well. If you asked her, she would tell you there was never a moment when she thought we would lose the race. She brings a positive energy to everything she does.

I, on the other hand, am a fan of the details in life. The role of a campaign manager (just like that of an engineer) is to focus on the little things that might sneak up on you. I had a healthy skepticism during the entire campaign. I really wasn’t sure we’d win. I see myself as a reluctant leader — that is, until people like Shannon come along and help me see my value. And it really paid off: we won! Shannon is the youngest-ever elected official in West Lafayette, Indiana.

What Shannon and I have in common is the spark that keeps us going. We need that spark because young women are consistently underestimated, and our ideas are undervalued in every field, from engineering to politics. This is why women are the ones who will lead critical conversations on how to redesign our shared future.

So think about the young women in your life. Talk to them about their passions and ideas — if they don’t have them now, they will soon. Invest your time in them, either to help them or just to listen. At the very least, watch them grow — because they will lead you to a future you may have never imagined.

Headshot of the author, Leela Menon, wearing a yellow blazer, against a light blue background.
Left to right: Three fun photos of Shannon Kang and her campaign manager, the author.

Headshot of the author, Leela Menon, wearing a yellow blazer, against a light blue background.

Leela Menon is a senior at Purdue University studying Environmental & Ecological Engineering. In Fall 2019, she was a Running Start Congressional Fellow for the US House of Representatives and a campaign manager for a West Lafayette City Council election. After graduating, Leela will work to develop engineering solutions for global sustainability and climate change, like renewable energy. Later in life, she may run for office to push for legislation in these same areas.

What’s not on her resume is that Leela tries to bring compassion to everything she does. If she offers to help you, it’s because she really does believe in you and wants you to see yourself the way she sees you. She doesn’t believe in small-talk. Leela would love to start a conversation with you, and hopes you’ll reach out.

Women in Politics Feel Like We Can’t Say “I Don’t Know.” Here’s Why We Have to.

By Jessica Kelly, Running Start Chief of Staff

As much as I hate to admit it (and as much as my little sister will be shocked to hear me admit this), I don’t know everything.

It feels vulnerable to admit what you don’t know and ask for help. Women leaders (and other folks who don’t look like those who have traditionally been in power) can feel pressure to appear as though we know everything. We tend to over-prepare, so we don’t ever have to say “I don’t know,” and risk being seen as unqualified.

But as I was recently reminded, saying “I don’t know” is when the magic happens.

Last month, Running Start staff spent two days straight asking for help, and it was incredible. We were fortunate enough to be chosen by WAKE International for a Tech2Empower Impact Fellowship, where 10 women from the tech sector came to DC to learn about our work and advise us on a variety of tech projects we were struggling with.

The staff of Running Start have a lot of strengths and skills. I could write a whole blog post on each person and the amazing things they bring to the table. But collectively, we lack expertise in some areas, like data management, user experience design, and email marketing.

Getting advice on those topics (and more) from a group of women who work in those fields for a living was a huge privilege. Now, Running Start has a list of new tech tools that will make our lives easier and concrete next steps to bring our work to the next level. But more importantly, we also have a brand new community of women who are invested in our work and want to help us change the face of politics.

As part of the Fellowship, we even invited other women in politics organizations to come together at an event and share a “pain point,” or something their organization struggles with, so that the visiting experts could offer advice. It was unusual to have an event where people shared their struggles and asked for help — normally we only share successes in such a public forum.

It got me thinking about how running for and serving in office means getting used to asking for help constantly.

When running, you need to ask for volunteers, donations, and votes. No one can run for office alone. Once in office, every elected official has a team who rounds out her knowledge. No one person can know the details on every issue — so much so that electeds have entire legislative teams to divide the work.

I encountered this idea again only a few days ago.

Every Friday, during our weekly leadership sessions with the Running Start/Walmart Congressional Fellows, one Fellow starts the day off by giving a report about a piece of legislation that is coming up in Congress. The goal is to help one another stay up to date on what’s happening on the Hill, so they can be the best Congressional interns they can be. Last week, the resident engineer of the group gave an illuminating talk about a bill regarding energy storage facilities (watch out for Leela’s future YouTube series explaining complicated science for policymakers, as I am currently trying to convince her to make one).

After the incredible engineering lesson, another Fellow reflected on how beneficial it is to have people in office who come from specific career backgrounds, like engineering, healthcare, or education. She worried that she didn’t have deep expertise in anything the way Leela did in engineering, but rather a little bit of knowledge on a lot of things, and wondered aloud about her qualifications to run.

Fall 2019 Running Start/Walmart Congressional Fellows on the steps of the Supreme Court

I had barely opened my mouth to respond when the rest of her cohort jumped in with supportive and wise advice. “You don’t need to be an expert,” one person said. “You’ll know how to bring together a team to support you where you need it — every Member of Congress does.” Even at the very beginning of their careers, in their early 20s, these young women already know that being authentic and vulnerable is what is going to make them successful.

Essentially, everyone needs to ask for help, even at the pinnacle of their career. It’s humbling to admit what you don’t know, but amazing things happen when you do. You become a more effective leader. You bring other people into your mission and your work, creating a larger and more diverse community of support. And you boost the confidence of the people around you, because it feels great to be asked for help.

I will leave you with a challenge: find two people in your life who have a skill you lack and ask for their help this week.

Maybe it’s tech expertise like the Tech2Empower advisors who helped Running Start. Maybe it’s a friend who is good at handling difficult conversations who can prepare you for a tough meeting. (I’m about to ask my partner, who writes for a living, to read over and give honest feedback on this blog post!)

The more people you ask for help, the more people will be engaged and invested in your future and your cause. Women in politics are under incredible pressure, both from themselves and others, to seem like the perfect expert on every topic. So it’s up to all of us to resist that urge and show the next generation of women leaders that they already have what it takes, because they have a community surrounding them who are excited to roll up their sleeves and help out!

Connections — The Power of Mentoring Young Women

At Running Start, our trainings provide each young woman with the 3 C’s that prepare her to lead in politics: confidence, capabilities, and connections. That last C — connections — is why we have created the Running Start Network. More on that later, but first: here’s what mentorship through Running Start has meant for some of our amazing alums.

Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah, Misaki Collins, and Tarina Ahuja have collectively participated in the following Running Start programs: Elect Her, High School Program, Congressional Fellowship, and Run with Running Start.

How has mentoring contributed to your success so far?

Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah: “The mentorship of others has been crucial to me in my very nascent career. One of the most important mentoring relationships I have has helped me get an internship and my current job, and the relationships I have with peer mentors have helped me make many critical decisions in the confusing time period that is early adulthood.”

Misaki Collins: “I owe practically every single one of my successes to mentors that believed in me.”

Do you have any advice to other alums who might use the Running Start Network for mentoring purposes?

Ewurama: “Some of the best advice I’ve ever read about mentoring comes from Stacey Abrams, who said ‘What I learned early on is if someone said I want to help you, believe them. But I understood what they meant is help me help you.’ Running Start has ties to an array of amazing, accomplished people, and these people are participating in the Network because they are invested in cultivating young talent — so don’t be afraid to reach out to them, and help them help you!”

Misaki: “I would HIGHLY recommend for all alum to utilize the Running Start Network regardless of how they were previously involved in Running Start. Whether it was years ago that one week in high school or the Congressional Fellowship that got you involved, there is an entire network for women who are eager to empower you.”

Tarina Ahuja: “Mentoring has the capacity to inspire and instigate change in a young person. My mentors have opened doors for me and guided me in cultivating my passions. The Running Start Network is an incredible opportunity to meet and connect with phenomenal women. It has allowed me a portal into a world of movers, shakers, and changemakers that I aspire to be like.”

“Don’t be afraid to connect with and seek mentorship from people who may seem vastly different than you. Hearing from people with different lived experiences than you can be extremely valuable.”

Running Start mentors and mentees at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in September 2019.

Any other words of advice?

Ewurama: “Embrace the fact that there are many kinds of mentors you will form relationships with who each serve a specific and unique purpose. Some mentors will know you very intimately and offer you advice based on their closeness with you, and others are more high-level mentors who you connect with about a specific topic or for a specific ask. Both relationships are equally important in different ways and seek out mentors of each kind. Also, don’t be afraid to connect with and seek mentorship from people who may seem vastly different than you. Hearing from people with different lived experiences than you can be extremely valuable.”

Misaki: “I’ve been amazed by the network’s support for one another and how it truly transcends party lines, geographical distance, age, etc.”


Curious about the Running Start Network?

It’s a private Network of Running Start alums, mentors, and other friends intended to facilitate the kinds of relationships that help young women succeed in politics and beyond.

The Network makes it easy to create formal and informal mentoring relationships between younger peers and also between high-level advisors and younger Running Start alums. Simply search for users by name, location, area of interest, or another factor you find compelling — then send them a message to start the conversation. The Network is also where Running Start posts various resources and events, and where you can post jobs and other opportunities.

For those wondering if you have space in your life to start mentoring someone else, consider that investing in others’ development can lead to lower levels of stress for both mentors and mentees. The Network allows you to set your preferences so that others know what types of interactions you are open to, whether they be in-person meetups, phone calls, video chats, etc. Busy working professionals can take advantage of the Network by setting limits on the number of interactions you are able to have each month.

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant has said that the difference between a good mentor and a great mentor is that “A good mentor is someone who’s willing to meet with you and give you advice, but a great mentor is someone who recognizes that there’s no one person that could give you all the advice that you would need. So a great mentor is someone who would actually introduce you to other mentors and help you expand your network of advisors.” If you know others who would like to mentor young women on Running Start’s Network, send them a referral link!

“A great mentor is someone who would actually introduce you to other mentors and help you expand your network of advisors.”

If you are ready to support young women in their path to leadership in politics, join us on the Network!

Summer Reading for Future Congresswomen

The 11 Books Recommended During Running Start’s 2019 High School Program

This June, Running Start’s annual week-long, residential political leadership program brought together 50 high school women leaders from across the country. In addition to meeting their Member of Congress and participating in a campaign simulation, the participants heard from over 40 speakers from the world of politics and leadership. A common theme among all of these speakers’ remarks? Book recommendations! Here are all of the books our expert speakers say helped them on their leadership journey.

The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — -What Women Need to Know by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay

Confidence. We know it when we see it or think we do. And we want it for ourselves. The authors of the New York Times bestseller Womenomics deconstruct this essential, elusive, and misunderstood quality and offer a blueprint to bring more of it into our lives. Ultimately, they argue, while confidence is partly influenced by genetics, it is not a fixed psychological state. You won’t discover it by thinking positive thoughts or telling yourself (or your children) that you are perfect as you are. You won’t find it either by simply squaring your shoulders and faking it. But it does require a choice: less worrying about people-pleasing and perfection and more action, risk taking, and fast failure. Inspiring, insightful, and persuasive, The Confidence Code shows that by acting on our best instincts and by daring to be authentic, women can feel the transformative power of a life on confidence.

Represent: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World by June Raphael and Kate Black

Turn “can I do this?” into “yes, I can!”

Join the growing wave of women leaders with Represent, an energetic, interactive, and inspiring step-by-step guide showing how to run for the approximately 500,000 elected offices in the US. Written with humor and honesty by writer, comedian, actress, and activist June Diane Raphael and Kate Black, former chief of staff at EMILY’s list, Represent is structured around a 21-point document called “I’m Running for Office: The Checklist.” Doubling as a workbook, Represent covers it all, from the nuts and bolts of where to run, fundraising, and filing deadlines, to issues like balancing family and campaigning, managing social media and how running for office can work in your real life. With infographics, profiles of women politicians, and wisdom and advice from women in office, this is a must-own for any woman thinking of joining the pink wave.

Go Fish: How to Catch (And Keep) Contributors: A Practical Guide to Fundraising by Nancy Bocksor

This 66-page book is full of practical advice about how to ask for money, organize finance committees, host profitable events, write successful fundraising letters and other best practices for political and non-profit fundraisers. You’ll learn how to develop successful strategies in this step-by-step guide that demystifies the fundraising process. In Go Fish, Nancy Bocskor has translated her years of fundraising experience into the definitive fundraiser’s handbook.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, continues to be a best seller for the simple reason that it ignores trends and pop psychology and focuses on timeless principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity.

One of the most compelling books ever written, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, have empowered and inspired readers for over 25 years and played a part in the transformation of millions of lives, across all age groups and professions.

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks

In Love Your Enemies, the New York Times bestselling author and social scientist Arthur C. Brooks shows that abuse and outrage are not the right formula for lasting success. Brooks blends cutting-edge behavioral research, ancient wisdom, and a decade of experience leading one of America’s top policy think tanks in a work that offers a better way to lead based on bridging divides and mending relationships.

Love Your Enemies offers a clear strategy for victory for a new generation of leaders. It is a rallying cry for people hoping for a new era of American progress. Most of all, it is a roadmap to arrive at the happiness that comes when we choose to love one another, despite our differences.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

You can go after the job you want…and get it! You can take the job you have…and improve it! You can take any situation you’re in…and make it work for you!

Since its release in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold more than 15 million copies. Dale Carnegie’s first book is a timeless bestseller, packed with rock-solid advice that has carried thousands of now famous people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives.

As relevant as ever before, Dale Carnegie’s principles endure, and will help you achieve your maximum potential in the complex and competitive modern age.

Learn the six ways to make people like you, the twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, and the nine ways to change people without arousing resentment.

How to Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls by Donna Dale Carnegie

Donna Dale Carnegie, daughter of the late motivational author and teacher Dale Carnegie, brings her father’s time-tested, invaluable lessons to the newest generation of young women on their way to becoming savvy, self-assured friends and leaders.

How to Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls offers concrete advice on teen topics such as peer pressure, gossip, and popularity. Teen girls will learn the most powerful ways to influence others, defuse arguments, admit mistakes, and make self-defining choices. The Carnegie techniques promote clear and constructive communication, praise rather than criticism, emotional sensitivity, tolerance, and a positive attitude — important skills for every girl to develop at an early age. Of course, no book for teen girls would be complete without taking a look commitment issues and break-ups with romantic partners. Carnegie also provides solid advice for older teens beginning to explore their influence in the adult world, such as driving and handling college interviews.

Full of fun quizzes, “reality check” sections, and true-life examples, How to Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls offers every teenage girl candid, insightful, and timely advice on how to influence friends in a positive manner.

Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in CIA’s Clandestine Service by Henry A. Crumpton

Revelatory and groundbreaking, The Art of Intelligence will change the way people view the CIA, domestic and foreign intelligence, and international terrorism. Henry A. “Hank” Crumpton, a twenty-four-year veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, offers a thrilling account that delivers profound lessons about what it means to serve as an honorable spy. From CIA recruiting missions in Africa to pioneering new programs like the UAV Predator, from running post–9/11 missions in Afghanistan to heading up all clandestine CIA operations in the United States, Crumpton chronicles his role — in the battlefield and in the Oval Office — in transforming the way America wages war and sheds light on issues of domestic espionage.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In The Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

The instant New York Times bestseller from the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder shares how saying YES changed her life. “As fun to read as Rhimes’s TV series are to watch” (Los Angeles Times). With three children at home and three hit television shows, it was easy for Shonda to say she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. And then, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes — from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun — when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.

The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins

Throughout your life, you’ve had parents, coaches, teachers, friends and mentors who have pushed you to be better than your excuses and bigger than your fears. What if the secret to having the confidence and courage to enrich your life and work is simply knowing how to push yourself?

Using the science of habits, riveting stories and surprising facts from some of the most famous moments in history, art and business, Mel Robbins will explain the power of a “push moment.” Then, she’ll give you one simple tool you can use to become your greatest self.

It takes just five seconds to use this tool, and every time you do you’ll be in great company. More than 8 million people have watched Mel’s TEDx Talk, and executives inside of the world’s largest brands are using the tool to increase productivity, collaboration, and engagement. The 5 Second Rule is a simple, one-size-fits-all solution for the one problem we all face — we hold ourselves back.

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts — Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak — that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts — from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

Let’s Be Vulnerable: Unlearning Toxic Leadership with Brené Brown

by Senanee Abeyawickram

When women run for office, they win at the same rates as men.

But women face external and internal barriers that dissuade them from wanting to run. For example, due to internal barriers, women often struggle with confidence and the fear that they lack experience — in other words, ‘imposter syndrome’. This has led me to question if there is a gap in how society defines good leadership versus what it really is. Conventional wisdom suggests that good leaders are those who have solutions and make no mistakes — a kind of ‘superhero’. Masking our own imperfections, we embrace this definition, despite knowing that such a person cannot exist. Perhaps these expectations are what create the toxic environments that foster unapproachable, inauthentic, and sometimes discriminatory leaders.

As a young woman who has always been interested in politics, I have been asked, on several occasions, if I would ever run for office. My response has ranged from a hard ‘yes’ to a meek ‘maybe’. Somewhere between the encouraging ‘you should get involved’ and vexing ‘politics is not for women’ rhetoric, I have conjured some deep apprehensions within myself. Largely, this has been fueled by a fear that being in political leadership will force me to be inauthentic or strip me of my true identity. I wonder if it is possible to be successful as a politician while being true to myself.

Society’s perceptions of political leadership are embellished in notions of bravado, perfection, and prowess. In the face of stereotypes that men are more likely to fit this bill, women have to push even further if they want to prove themselves. Amid the complexity of these issues, I have been in awe of the simplicity with which Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, characterizes strong leadership. Her paradigm is a good starting point for hopeful young women, like myself, to unlearn the societal standards that deter us from wanting to run for office.

Brown introduces us to a more realistic and honest approach to leadership. In her TED talk, which has now gained over 40 million views, Brown talks about vulnerability, its power, and its importance in leadership. At first glance, leadership and vulnerability may seem counterintuitive. We are taught that vulnerability is an inherent weakness — and Brown’s definition of vulnerability, “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”, tends to reinforce that idea. Yet, her research posits that vulnerability is, in fact, a sign of strong leadership. In thinking about the intersection of vulnerability and leadership Brown asks us to ponder how the definition of vulnerability is similar to that of leadership: “the ability to be in uncertainty, take risks, and manage exposure.”

Key to her quest in realizing the power of vulnerability was a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910. He said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Brown pins the genealogy of the power of vulnerability to what Roosevelt refers to as “daring greatly”. In this frame of thinking, there is greater emphasis and value placed on leaders who admit to their mistakes, ask for help, take risks, and speak the truth. These behaviors reflect ‘authenticity’ and ‘humility’ — adjectives that aren’t as intimidating as ‘perfection’ and ‘prowess’. As hopeful young women leaders, what if we were asked: “Do you have the authenticity, courage, and humility it takes to run for office?” instead of “Do you have the power and prowess to run for office?”

Brown’s broader theories on vulnerability and leadership have been extrapolated into the world of business with many CEOs and managers implementing them in their workplaces. The world of politics is indeed another realm in which the intersection of vulnerability and leadership is highly potent, especially in the discourse on women in politics. We often complain that our leaders make fake promises, turn a blind eye to wrongdoings, or lack authenticity in general. Brown’s research is a nudge in the right direction for our generation to start creating a new culture — one that normalizes vulnerability, embraces it, and uses it as a tool to foster change. Brown questions, ‘has man ever created anything without having to be vulnerable?’ ‘No, because vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity and innovation.’

Dismantling the notion that vulnerability is a sign of weakness can be a useful tool of empowerment for women. But just because we know that vulnerability is a sign of strong leadership does not mean it is easy to be vulnerable. Brown says that, “for women vulnerability is hard because it pushes against the messages and expectations that fuel shame”. These are the same forces that make women in leadership feel like they need to talk, walk, and dress a certain way to be taken seriously.

Leaders who know how to be vulnerable recognize that it is not a weakness, that it is not something you should opt out of, and that it has boundaries. Brown informs us that vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability. This is why it is important to know when to be vulnerable by assessing the quality of what is being disclosed and the intention behind it. And if this is true, Brown is right in saying that “vulnerability is our most accurate way to measure courage.”

Leadership development coach, Kate Turner, shares similar views on this issue. In particular, when asked how we can debunk the myths surrounding vulnerability, she says that it is important to ‘catch people doing it right. If you see other people showing up in the right version of vulnerability, then comment on it and congratulate them. This is the way to start making a measurable change.’ Lucky for us, we can look to many recent examples of female politicians who have fearlessly embraced vulnerability.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is lauded for how well she handled the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Christchurch. In addition to prescribing immediate policy measures, Ardern took on the role of ‘national healer’. She embraced and mourned alongside those who were affected, speaking openly about her own struggles. In that moment of collective weakness, she found strength for her country with courage, compassion, and her willingness to be vulnerable.

In the United States, sharing a personal story of sexual assault can be extremely frightening and risky for politicians. But that didn’t stop Senator Joni Ernst, Senator Martha McSally, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer from courageously participating in the #MeToo Movement and contributing towards its momentum. Their decisions empowered and set a powerful precedent for other survivors. Importantly, it reminded everyone across the political spectrum that the issue of sexual assault and harassment sees no political party — it is a nonpartisan issue that affects us all. The fact that Martha McSally offered one of the most powerful testimonies in the growing debate on Capitol Hill over how to adjudicate claims of sexual assault in the military shows that the outcome of her decision to be vulnerable was both powerful and tangible.

Similarly, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was caught in a moment of profound vulnerability with her infamous ‘misogyny speech’ in parliament. It was one of the first times the issue was addressed by a woman so passionately and unapologetically in a political forum. The response to her speech was mixed. But as Brown says, being a strong, vulnerable leader means ‘leaning in to the discomfort’. And that’s exactly what Gillard did. In the end, many women from around the world saw it as a defining moment for feminism in Australia.

The myth that vulnerability is a weakness has, in many ways, been debunked. It’s just that the negative connotation of the word has not been fully unpacked and realized by our leaders. At the same time, the stereotypes that plague perceptions of women make it even more difficult to talk about this subject without being labeled as ‘emotional’. But that does not mean we should silence ourselves. These exemplary women have shown us that it is okay to be vulnerable; we do not have to be perfect and politics does not have to change us. But, it seems, we might have to change politics.


Running Start Summer 2019 Intern Senanee Abeyawickrama is a political science and economics major at New York University Abu Dhabi, where she was awarded a full scholarship. At university, she has been an active member of the Model UN club having participated in numerous international conferences as both a delegate and chair. She has been involved in on-campus initiatives aimed at women’s leadership and empowerment including “Women in Business” and the “Girls’ Education Network”. Senanee has experience with research-based internships in her home country, Sri Lanka. One of her most rewarding experiences was when she worked with the gender team at the United Nations Population Fund on a project titled “Sexual Harassment of Women in Public Transport”. Although an introvert, Senanee enjoys meeting new people and engaging in debates over issues she cares about. After graduation, she hopes to get work experience in a policy-oriented field related to human rights. One day, Senanee hopes to run for local office and advocate for issues affecting women and children.