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.

Cultivating the Old Girls Club

By Susannah Wellford, CEO of Running Start & Alyse Nelson, CEO of Vital Voices

A few weeks ago, the two of us sat down together on a comfortable couch to chat about life and swap stories from our long friendship. We do this a lot, but this time we had a little company — the 1,200 women from the Generation W conference in Jacksonville, Florida who had come to hear us speak about how women can better support each other. We shared how we have helped each other succeed throughout our careers and how a deep personal friendship has grown as a result.

Here’s the story we told: back in 1998, we met at a meeting at the State Department. We were the youngest two people in the room, and we connected afterwards over a favor — Susannah worked with legendary former Governor Ann Richards, and Alyse wanted a signed copy of her book. Since that day, we have nominated each other for awards, spoken at each other’s events, and connected each other to useful contacts. We consider ourselves sponsors of each other — like mentors, but even better.

Most importantly, we have used each other as a sounding board for some of the toughest professional decisions we have had to make. For years we have used long runs or walks to talk through problems and to offer each other advice. It can be lonely at the top of an organization, and it’s an incredible comfort to have someone to talk to who knows what you are going through.

Our relationship is based on trust — we trust that the other will keep our secrets and not judge us based on the vulnerabilities we express. And even though we started out as professional contacts, we quickly became real friends who have shared some of the most intense good and bad moments of our lives (divorces, children, new relationships). Susannah is godmother to Alyse’s daughter, and Alyse introduced Susannah to her significant other.

Susannah Wellford and Alyse Nelson backstage at Generation W.

We worry that this type of relationship is far too rare, because on paper, we should be rivals. After all, we both run nonprofit organizations whose missions are similar. You might assume we were competitors in the cut-throat world of raising money and securing connections, but instead, we’ve been allies since the start. The way we see it, the work we are striving towards is way too big for any one group. It is only through working together that we can ever move the needle on the enormous culture shift required to bring more women to power. And so, our message to other women is: find someone at your level and sponsor each other. Look for someone who you admire and trust, preferably someone who works in your field. The key is to let go of ego and envy and realize that her success is your success. Only by working together as allies can women ever hope to close the leadership gap.


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, Ben and James.

Alyse Nelson is president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership. A cofounder of Vital Voices, Alyse has worked for the organization for more than 20 years, serving as vice president and senior director of programs before assuming her current role in 2009. Under her leadership, Vital Voices has expanded its reach to serve over 16,000 women leaders in 181 countries. Alyse serves on Running Start’s Board of Directors.

“We must lift others as we rise.” — How Running Start is changing the status quo of political power.

by Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah

I am a first-generation American who for some reason found myself drawn to politics as a child. Maybe it is because as I grew up, I saw that while my parents lived in a country they loved, they did not have much ability to influence the decisions made about their community because they were not citizens. Maybe it was because I realized on some fundamental level, even as a child, that women, especially women of color, were not often in positions where they were calling the shots. (As a fifth grader, my student council president speech ended with — I kid you not — “Don’t stick to the status quo! It’s time for a female president!”)

Either way, though I was interested in politics and ran for leadership positions from fifth grade student council president all the way to student body vice president at my university, I never had the opportunity to see what things looked like within the great halls of power. At least, not until my Congressional Fellowship with Running Start.

I was placed in the office of a Senator I admire, in part because of her position on a Senate Committee I am interested in and the work she has done around issues I am passionate about. Unusually contentious committee business that took place during my internship made the experience especially challenging. But there were other profound issues at play as well.

Before my internship, I’d had an idea about what Capitol Hill might look like. Even as a child, I was attuned to the fact that not many women had the opportunity to serve as leaders in any capacity. I looked up to the women closest to me but had few women to look up to as political role models. So, I approached my time on the Hill clear-eyed, and with the understanding that I just wouldn’t see many people who looked like me. Even with my expectations, it was still disheartening for me to see how few women and people of color, especially women of color, there were throughout the Hill, in both staff and elected positions. It was frustrating that the nation’s highest body of government felt in many ways unrepresentative of our country.

It was in these disheartening moments, though, that I was most grateful for my involvement with Running Start. As a Congressional Fellow, I was told every week in different forms and from different people, that I was strong, smart, capable, and tough — and that though it might be hard for me to see at times, I could do anything I put my mind to.

Left: Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah making her #ILookLikeAPolitician contest speech to the crowd of DC movers and shakers at the Young Women to Watch Awards. Right: Ewurama and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin taking a selfie at the event’s reception.

After my fellowship, in a beautiful full-circle moment at Running Start’s Young Women to Watch Awards, I had my own newly-elected Congresswoman, Representative Elissa Slotkin (whose campaign I had strongly supported) cheer me on and campaign for me as I competed to serve as Running Start’s Ambassador. Being surrounded by multitudes of politically-inclined women to celebrate the most diverse Congress in American history was unbelievably special. More than anything else, it helped me realize that we have the ability to shape what the future of our politics looks like. And that’s because organizations like Running Start are working hard to change the face of power.

So many of us have not seen ourselves represented in our nation’s politics. As Running Start’s #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador, I hope to use my platform to reach out to young women across the country and help them see that we need their voices in the political realm. Even a few months ago, Congress didn’t look the way it does now. We all have the responsibility to ensure that we don’t go back to how things were before. We must continue to tell young women from all backgrounds that they are strong, smart, capable, and tough, and encourage them to share their ideas. We must follow the example of people like my own Congresswoman, mentoring those who aspire to be in their positions. We must lift others as we rise.

I like to think my fifth-grade self would be proud of me today; it is for her that I will continue working. The status quo, slowly but surely, is beginning to change, and I’m proud to be a part of changing it.

Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah is a graduate of James Madison College at Michigan State University. As a student, she served as the Vice President for Academic Affairs in ASMSU, where she focused on college and textbook affordability issues. She is an alumna of the Running Start / Walmart Congressional Fellowship, where she interned for a Senator. She was recently elected to serve as Running Start’s 2019 #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador, a position which will give her the opportunity to encourage young women across the country to embrace their political ambitions.

Easiest. Mentorship. Ever.

“Most likely to run for President”? Make sure she does!

Do you know a young woman in high school interested in learning about leadership and politics? Or maybe you know a someone who isn’t totally sure about pursuing public office but who wants to make a difference.

Running Start’s nonpartisan High School Program is ideal both for students hungry for leadership training and those who could use a little nudge. Encourage the future leaders in your life to apply by February 15th! (Details below.)

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Read (and listen) about the program at NPR, and learn what real Running Start alums say about their experience:

“My Summer Week Spent In Washington DC With Running Start”

“From Arkansas to Capitol Hill”

“I stood firm and I was powerful.”

“Acceptance, Inclusion, and Following My Passions”

Running Start High School Program 2019

June 17–22, 2019, at Georgetown University in Washington, DC
Learn More / Apply by February 15th:
Eligibility: Young women who will be in high school in fall 2019 and 2019 graduates.
Cost: $2,000 (Includes housing, meals and snacks, and travel during the program. Scholarships available.)

Program Overview

The week-long, intensive program brings 75 high school women from across the country to Washington, DC. They learn key political skills like networking, messaging, and fundraising, and meet 250+ trainers, speakers, and mentors along the way. Via hands-on workshops, a campaign simulation contest, a trip to Capitol Hill, and more, young women gain the confidence, capabilities, and connections they need to own their voice and lead in politics.

Running Start

Since 2007, Running Start — a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization — has trained more than 15,000 young women to run for political office. Running Start’s long-term mission is political parity. Research shows that when women run they win at the same rates as men, but there aren’t enough women running (just one in four elected leaders are women). Women’s political confidence starts decreasing in early adolescence, so Running Start provides an important intervention at a critical moment. And it works: 80% of its alums seek leadership opportunities and 90% who run for student government win. Running Start trained the youngest-ever elected officials in Washington, DC, Illinois, and West Virginia. Find us online:, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

130 Reasons to be Thankful for the 116th Congress

By Sammie Espada

As 2018 comes to a close, it is time to reflect on the impact this year had on all of our lives. This year challenged women to see themselves in new leadership roles. More women than ever ran for political office — and they won. The 116th Congress will set a new record for the number of women representing our country with 130 women (126 voting members, 4 nonvoting). These women defy the mold of what a traditional political leader is supposed to look like: they are young and they are ethnically, religiously, and politically diverse. I am thankful for all of these women for providing new role models for young girls and women to run for office.

As I spent time with loved ones over the holiday week, I noted all of the young women in my life. My younger cousins and my niece (ranging from 5 to 21 years old) were all eager to hear about my experience in Washington, DC as a Running Start Congressional Fellow. They were all looking up to me to guide their future steps. In the three months I have been gone, so much about their lives has changed as they embark on new adventures and discover more of their capabilities. Still, they dream of being chefs, artists, and lawyers — none of them dream of being a political leader.

My 8 year old cousin, Angel, spent Thanksgiving leading the charge with all the young girls following her. She cunningly convinced all of us to play Jenga, then Twister, and even a unicorn toss. I watched her talk to the other girls in our family and every conversation left with Angel getting what she asked. Her presence is commanding, her spirit infectious — she’s a natural born leader. But we have never talked about her running for office, even though she can be a chef, a sister, a daughter, a mother, and a politician. In fact,she can do anything she wants — if she knows it’s possible. Young women, however, experience a gender gap in political ambition from a young age. We are not encouraged to run for office by our families or by the media. Women are less likely than men to have considered running for office or to express interest in a candidacy at some point in the future. Women do not see themselves in office because it is not a norm for women to be political leaders.

As a young Latina, I also strongly feel the lack of enough women of color in political office to help guide us. But 2018 changed that. Ayanna Pressley, in her victory speech, noted that women of color candidates hit a concrete ceiling. Breaking it means, she said:

“Seismic shifts, drastic change. When those tectonic plates of revolution shift below our feet…Stronger than any one person or any one institution, it builds up from the ground beneath our feet. This groundswell, this shift can break through concrete.”

My young cousins and my niece will see women that look like them in all forms of leadership in 2019. They will see women in their state legislature, governorships, and the US Congress. Most powerfully for my family and me, they will see women of color leading the charge and making their voices heard. Because of the women of the 116th Congress I can see myself running for office more than ever before. I see women with similar values and backgrounds who are willing to challenge the norms and fight for their communities. I see women changing the face of politics, changing its priorities, and re-engaging communities who have long been underrepresented in politics. I am thankful these women have etched a path for me and women like me to lead.

Most importantly, I am thankful that these women are just the beginning. They will grow as politicians in front of us and they will change the future of politics. The young women of our country are looking at these women to continue to break barriers for us all. They make a woman President seem that much closer and they make it seem more plausible that we will reach gender parity in politics. (Although to get there, we need more women of all political ideologies to run — especially when we’ll see women’s representation among Republicans in Congress decrease next year.)

My time with Running Start has also made me hopeful about getting more women to the table. As a Congressional Fellow, I am surrounded by women of different political, ethnic, and religious backgrounds who are all eager to run for office one day. I am certain these women are the future of politics. Women who are ready to learn, compromise, and put in work to better their communities and our country. The 116th Congress created a critical seismic shift. Now it’s time for the next generation of women leaders to step through those cracks and make our own mark.

Sammie Espada is a current Running Start Congressional Fellow interning in the US Senate. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 with a degree in Women and Gender Studies and Political Science with a minor in Latinx Studies. She is a native New Yorker passionate about her Latinx heritage and empowering young girls and women of color to reach their full potential.

What Remembering Ntozake Shange Taught Me About Empowering Young Women (and Myself)

By Reniya Dinkins

This past Saturday, I was devastated when I found out about the passing of Ntozake Shange on Twitter. Several people were quoting the poet’s words from “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” one passage in particular:

i found god in myself
& i loved her/ I loved her fiercely

Ntozake Shange illustrated with her work that a woman having the courage to redefine what is divine by looking within herself is revolutionary. It is often accompanied by a great deal of pain unseen by an outside world that has negative and constricting ideas, expectations, and critiques of her before she even enters it. Yet, every day we witness more and more women breaking barriers by seeing something great within themselves: they are running for elected office, starting and reviving movements, and challenging the world to center their perspectives and experiences.

While things may seem to be going so well for women, it is still important to raise up future women leaders who will move us towards a more equitable world with their rise to power. Our progress does not mean that there is no longer a need to create spaces for young women to comfortably build themselves and grow as people. Many of the challenges that await them are the same ones that awaited us and the women before us. As people, it is so important to have that extra push to encourage us to love and embrace our authentic selves when facing these challenges.

In middle school, I remember being embarrassed about feeling any kind of negative emotions. I would never cry in front of people because my biggest fear was my sadness being minimized to “being such a girl.”” I never allowed myself to feel anger, but instead would suppress it because I wanted to avoid the repercussions of being boxed into the “sassy” or “angry black girl” mold. Like many other young girls, I had internalized negative messaging about being black and a girl and a human, and I felt the need to be less human and more superhuman, refusing to show anger or sadness in order to seem valid to those around me. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that unconsciously suppressing my emotions had become an unhealthy habit that negatively affected the way I entered new spaces and cultivated new relationships.

Being a part of several empowering women’s groups and organizations over the years (Running Start, Girls Inc., the WomanHOOD Project, Sister Circle, and Girl Scouts) has helped me to embrace myself instead. In addition, coming across Ntozake Shange’s iconic choreopoem for the first time at 17 years old gave me a space to feel comfortable with myself as a person with my own experiences, emotions, and flaws. The lady in green, one of the seven narrators, taught me to take ownership of everything that I have to offer the world and to even love my scars. The lady in orange taught me that it is better to be my authentic black girl self than to exhaustingly mask myself out of a fear of being typecast or misperceived.

As a young person in my first year out of college and in the workforce full-time, recently rereading Shange’s work has reminded me of why being authentic is so important. My authentic voice is necessary at the table because no one else has it; the table will never truly be inclusive until everyone has the space to bring their true selves with them.

Shange has also reminded me of why it is so important to foster spaces where young girls can be “half notes scattered with no rhythm,” free to learn and embrace themselves in a way where they feel validated and motivated enough to be revolutionary. These spaces are vital because growing is a part of living, and to feel that there is no place to grow without judgment or hostility is stifling and tragic.

While I acknowledge that not every young girl has my experience, so many of us are faced with the challenges of womanhood within a traditionally patriarchal world. Ntozake Shange’s spectrum of colored girls brings disparate feelings and experiences to the story, and yet, all of the women are connected in that they use their individual stories to motivate and inspire themselves to move to the ends of their own rainbows to reach the ultimate goal of self-love.

While I am so grateful for the work and impact of Ntozake Shange, to carry on her legacy, we must continue to make space for girls, especially the marginalized girls, to grow in themselves so that they can exist freely and change our world.

somebody/ anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/ struggle/ hard times
sing her song of life

let her be born
let her be born
& handled warmly

Reniya Dinkins is the Executive Assistant to the President at Running Start. Her advocacy for more women in politics stems from her passion for uplifting the voices of marginalized groups in the US. She is a native Washingtonian, and she has been involved in community affairs since she was 15 years old as an intern in the local office of her congressional representative and as a member of the DC Youth Advisory Council. Reniya loves encouraging and empowering young people, especially young women of color, and she is committed to working in the nonprofit sector to serve underrepresented and underserved communities. She graduated from Columbia University in 2018 with a degree in Political Science and Sociology. Reniya was a Running Start intern in 2016!


Last week, my husband Marcelo and I watched the first episode of HBO’s Insecure, which IMDB describes as “follow[ing] the awkward experiences and racy tribulations of a modern-day African-American woman,” Issa Dee. About five minutes in, Marcelo paused the show and said, “I like this, but the title doesn’t make sense. Issa’s so beautiful, how could she be insecure?” Marcelo and I talk about gender inequality on a daily basis, so I knew the question was really a comment meant to start a conversation — one that has continued internally for me all week long.

So, let me tell you about my battle.

I was lucky enough to MC a recent summit for young women on resilience hosted by Running Start. Our original working title for the event was FAILURE because women are too socialized to fear failure (which can hold them back from taking risks like running for office). The Resilience Summit (its final name) was a positive day filled with strong women talking authentically and publicly about bouncing back. I was completely in my women’s empowerment element when a man approached me during the coffee/cookie break to ask why I had chosen my outfit for the day. I told him truthfully that it was first clean thing I saw that I knew fit on a morning when I was rushing to get to work. What I didn’t mention was that a couple weeks earlier I ripped three different pairs of pants in a single week at work. Perhaps they were old, but I had probably also gained weight, so I was trying to avoid wearing pants at public events.

Like many women, I’m accustomed to men making comments (negative or seemingly positive) about my appearance. Whether it’s the cashier at a local 7–11 telling me how much he liked my body (I stopped going to that one) or a man I sometimes ride the elevator with at work who’s said he doesn’t like my outfits or that he thinks my shoes are inappropriate. I’ve learned to insincerely laugh, awkwardly smile, turn away or redirect these types of inquiries or suggestions.

Tweet from Christina Ayiotis, with photo of Melissa Richmond starting the event.

But during that particular snack break, my usual defenses didn’t work. The man kept pressing. Did I choose the dress because it was pink? Did I think it made me look hot? Did I think I was better than the other females in the room? Wasn’t it inappropriate? The dress was pink because I got it for my sister’s wedding reception and it matched what my mother was wearing. I didn’t think it made me look hot. In fact, moments before this encounter, I had been hesitant to retweet a quote because it included a photo that I thought made me look fat (an unforgivable taboo for women appearing in public.) And, the other women in the room (who he referred to as “females”) were my colleagues and friends — my professional network and support system. So, no, I didn’t think I was better than them. But, after all of that questioning, I started thinking that maybe the dress was actually inappropriate.

I finally stopped his questions by saying, “I’m the MC. It’s my event. I can wear whatever I want.” And even though I consider myself a confident woman, I walked back to the stage feeling insecure. It was harder to stand up and introduce speakers when I knew for certain that the negative internal dialogue I was already having about the dress was being reinforced by a man in the back of the room. A man who had paradoxically also just accused me of choosing it because I thought it made me look hot and therefore better than other women, which made it inappropriate.

Although I was distracted by this conversation and by my increasing concern about my appearance, I was also pleased with the day because the Resilience Summit was a tremendous success! The people who spoke (Congresswomen and a Congressman, a Canadian MP, plus business leaders and celebrities) were vulnerable and inspiring in talking about their failures. It was hard not to get wrapped up in their amazing energy. But as we debriefed at the end of the day I had a sinking feeling and even felt compelled to apologize to my team for dressing “inappropriately.” I was worried that I had failed and embarrassed them.

The response of my Running Start colleagues was unanimously supportive and loving. They didn’t think my dress was inappropriate and were anxious to see if we could figure out who the man was. Interestingly, as far as we could tell, he didn’t RSVP or check in. He just showed up. And not only did he attack my dress and professionalism, he had also taken the time to make a strange criticism of the event. He thought businesswomen on a panel who were asked about #MeToo should have been compelled to disclose a specific personal experience because he was so sure they had one, rather than offering their thoughts on the movement. And with me, he won the battle. In that moment, he made me feel insecure about my body and my choice of what to wear.

But I won the war. Because I was the MC. Because the Resilience Summit was a home run. Because I have the platform to write about the experience for POLITICO’s #WomenRule. And because I am going to tweet this article out as a comment on the photo in which I thought I looked fat and then email it to every attendee of the Resilience Summit with pride, hoping he somehow made it onto our email list.

P.S. To Issa Rae (the creator and star of Insecure) and Marcelo, it took me a week to crystallize my thoughts: I hope the show is called Insecure because Issa is fighting feelings of insecurity thrust on her by the world, not because she is insecure. And I hope I can say the same about myself.

Melissa Richmond is the Vice President of Running Start, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that trains young women to run for political office. Melissa worked for Gov. Mitt Romney for 10 years and is a graduate of Brigham Young University, George Washington University Law School, and the Women’s Campaign School at Yale.

Failing Up: Reflections on Running Start’s Resilience Summit

Thank you to our friends at RepresentWomen (a nonpartisan organization working to advance women’s representation and leadership through reforming recruitment practices and voting systems) for this excellent post from one of their interns, Katie Pruitt, and for allowing us to share it. You can find the original post here.

Katherine Baird looked put together. As the minister of congressional, public and governmental affairs, she oversees important business on behalf of the Canadian Embassy. Last Thursday, standing fall, shoulders back, and eyes ahead, she addressed a room of over fifty high-achieving young women: “I am failing right now,” she said. Relief flooded her face as she confessed that she feels that she is unqualified for the job she currently holds.

Baird took to the stage at the Resilience Summit, an event hosted by Running Start and the Canadian Embassy, to air out her failures. Young women are significantly more likely than young men to believe that they will be “unqualified” to run for office in the future, an idea that seems to stem from a fear of failing. The purpose of the summit was to help young women dispel those fears and embrace failure as a necessary complement to success. Attending the summit was a transformative and moving experience that challenged the way I think about women who fail in the public eye.

Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Debbie Dingell, & Will Hurd speaking at the Resilience Summit.

Many of the politicians at the conference talked about how they dealt with losing elections. Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX), the sole male speaker, discussed how he lost his first congressional race at age 32. He admitted that he had seriously considered applying for a job at a fast food restaurant outside of his district where no one would recognize him. Instead, he joined a cybersecurity firm doing meaningful work before successfully running again four years later. “You have to refine that process [for failing],” Hurd said. Though losing felt catastrophic at the time, it ultimately provided another opportunity for Hurd to contribute to his community.

Melissa Fitzgerald (The West Wing & Director, Advancing Justice Initiative, NADCP) & Charlotte Clymer (Press Secretary for Rapid Response, HRC) speaking at the Resilience Summit.

Other speakers discussed the day-to-day failures they’ve experienced as politicians. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) spoke about the votes she regretted making in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and against the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Though she faced backlash when she later changed her position on these issues, she’s said that she was glad she made the decision to speak her mind. “I don’t care what they say,” she said. “There’s no substitute for self-satisfaction.”

Moderator Cierra Jackson (#ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador) and panelists Nishita Henry (Chief Innovation Officer for Consulting, Deloitte), Jeunesse Wright (Agent & Owner, State Farm Insurance Agency), Mara Palkovich (Vice President, Consumers Energy, CMS), Jessica Hogle (Senior Director, Federal Affairs, PG&E), & Marla Blow (Founder & CEO, FS Card) speaking at the Resilience Summit.

Several prolific businesswomen sat on a panel where they discussed the failures they’ve faced at work, from missed promotions to problems at home that bled into the workplace. “You have to stop thinking of it as a failure that stopped you,” Chief Innovation Officer for Consulting at Deloitte Nishita Henry said. Instead, she urged the audience to think of failure at work as an opportunity to reconsider end-goals.

Rebecca Thompson (Vice President, Deliver Strategies) speaking at the Resilience Summit.

Among the many speakers who opened up about their failures, I was particularly moved by Rebecca Thompson, vice president of Deliver Strategies. In 2014, she lost a Democratic primary for Michigan state representative by a mere six votes. The loss devastated her both emotionally and financially. She felt that she had betrayed her younger self by giving up on her childhood dream of holding office. After a period of reckoning and healing, she decided to follow a different path and went to work for a communications firm with the goal of helping other women of color run for office. Though at the time she was heartbroken, Thompson now feels that she made the right decision. “It’s okay to dream new dreams,” she said. As women we’re taught to work twice as hard as our male counterparts to get the promotion or win the election. Stepping down, even when that position is bad fit, can feel like a betrayal of all the effort that went into getting to that position. It was comforting to hear Thompson candidly discuss how she dealt with that guilt.

Running Start Staff (Susannah Wellford, Sara Blanco, Jessica Kelly, Natalie Caraballo, Reniya Dinkins, & Melissa Richmond) & Running Start Alum Imani Ross speaking at the Resilience Summit.

I’ve mulled over the conference quite a bit in the days since. The conference made me realize that though I am bombarded with stories of female success, I hardly hear positive stories about women’s failures. Every election cycle, we get excited for all the women running, and later for the women who win. But what about the women who fall short of the podium? These are the stories we need to tell more often: of the women who pick themselves up and try again, or change their path altogether.

Canadian MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes speaking at the Resilience Summit.
Resilience Summit participants sharing stories of struggle and bouncing back during an open mic session.

Katie Pruitt is an intern at RepresentWomen. She is a rising junior at Swarthmore College, where she is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Economics. She has studied voter suppression and institutional sexism in the classroom and is eager to work with RepresentWomen to address these issues. Katie has volunteered for several women candidates’ campaigns, including Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run. During the school year, you can find Katie editing news articles for Swarthmore’s only print newspaper The Phoenix, leading tours around campus, or listening to political podcasts.

Candid About Confidence

“What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

I bet you’ve been asked that before. Would you ever try to get your writing published? Tell your crush how you feel? Run for office?

Too many people, especially young girls, are taught that things are only worth trying if there is some guarantee of success. Failure can seem like a miserable dead end instead of what it actually is — the only path to learning, growth, and confidence.

Girls’ leadership researcher Rachel Simmons flips that question on its head: “What would you do even if you knew you would fail?” Translation: what experiences are worth it, even if the end result isn’t a success?

At Running Start, we train young women to run for office, and our message is that the mere act of running is worth it in and of itself. Regardless of whether you win an election, by running, you are building new skills, expanding your network, and setting yourself up to do better on the next try.

The key to all of this is CONFIDENCE. Lately, lots of people have been talking about it. Earlier this year, Rachel Simmons released Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Happy, Healthy and Fulfilling Lives. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman just translated their groundbreaking research for a new audience with The Confidence Code for Girls. Pop stars are even singing about it. This July, Running Start is holding a summit on how to build political confidence by learning from failure.

But what does confidence and failure mean to actual young women? We sat down with four of Running Start’s high school summer interns to see how they see confidence affecting their everyday lives.

What does being confident look like to you?

Caroline: To be confident is to be self-assured and to believe in yourself. Confidence manifests itself in a number of ways, from being outspoken, to not being afraid to present your ideas, to being a leader. To have confidence is to know and to accept who you are.

Sidney: I relate confidence to passion. I’ve found that those who are passionate about something are more confident than those who aren’t. For some people, confidence is a terrifying concept, but if you are truly passionate about something, whether it be derivatives or Charles Dickens, the passion is able to override the fear, and will make you confident.

Mallory: To me, being confident means being able to trust in myself and my abilities. Confidence means presenting my ideas without disclaimers that undermine their credibility. Growing up, I often thought I had to know all the answers or speak the loudest to be confident. However, I now see confidence as being able to take ownership of my strengths while also being comfortable enough to ask questions, learn, and take risks.

Maia: I guess confidence to me is more about unapologetically being myself, and less about not caring what people think about me. I think that this distinction is key because it makes the idea of confidence much more accessible to everyone.

How would you rate your current overall confidence level?

Caroline: Overall I am a fairly confident person. I am generally outgoing, and I feel comfortable in large crowds. I have never felt afraid to speak up in either social or academic situations. I am a take-charge person, and often will be the first to step into a leadership position if given the chance.

Sidney: It depends on the situation. Outside of social situations, I would say that I am extremely confident. It takes a lot of self-confidence in order to attend college abroad, and I’m not scared to speak up for myself in a professional setting. When it comes to social situations, I’m timid, but I’m working on it.

Mallory: I would say that my self-confidence is a work in progress. I often catch myself second-guessing my decisions or doubting my argument if someone in class disagrees with me. However, throughout high school, I’ve gained a greater awareness of these habits and have consciously pushed myself outside of my comfort zone by doing things like running for student government. Today, I’m confident in my academic skills and enjoy embracing new experiences.

Maia: I honestly don’t think I would rate it pretty high. I’m a pretty nervous person and having any sort of attention makes me uncomfortable. However, I do think that since the beginning of high school my confidence has grown tremendously. I have many people to thank for that and I am now someone who is even comfortable bragging about myself.

Do you see a difference between the boys’ and girls’ confidence in high school?

Caroline: In my experience, boys and girls my age have very different levels of confidence. This is especially obvious in an academic setting. Girls tend not to answer questions in class unless they are 100% sure they are correct, whereas boys will just throw out an answer. Girls are afraid to be incorrect in front of a group of people; boys aren’t. In social settings, I feel that young men and women are equally likely to speak with confidence.

Sidney: I would say that there definitely is a difference between boys’ and girls’ confidence in high school. Confidence levels depend on the individual, but generally speaking, the boys are more confident socially while the girls are more confident academically. I think this divide has more to do with perfectionism than anything else; the boys aren’t afraid to make mistakes, leading them to take more risks, while the girls spend a tremendous amount of time perfecting their work.

Mallory: Though I attend an all-girls high school, I participate in weekly Government Club meetings with my brother school. At these meetings, I’ve noticed that the boys give speeches more frequently, and they also frequently do so with little to no notes. In contrast, some of the girls, including myself, feel reluctant to talk unless they have done prior research or have a fully written and edited speech. I think this difference reflects how women often internalize the pressure to be perfect and, as a result, don’t feel confident enough to just stand up and speak their minds.

Maia: I don’t think that there is a difference in the level of confidence between to two, but I think that the boys, that I know at least, all seem to show their confidence a lot more. Meanwhile, the women I know have this wonderful secret confidence that I think they don’t exude as much in everyday life.

How does failure affect your confidence? How do you rebuild your confidence after failing?

Caroline: In school and in sports, we are taught to avoid failure at all costs. There is an incredible pressure to never fail at anything. This means that when people do fail, it is often a huge blow to their confidence. However, failure can in fact be helpful. Succeeding after having failed over and over again can increase your confidence immensely.

Sidney: I find that failure often helps me gain the confidence necessary to not fail in the same capacity again. Oprah once said that, “failure is a great teacher, and if you are open to it, every mistake has a lesson to offer.” I’m a life-long learner, it’s in my DNA. My great-aunt was Superintendent of two counties and her life philosophy taught me to develop a deep appreciation of learning. I don’t think anyone is eager to fail, but I’m definitely eager to learn, and that love of learning helps me to rebound from failure without diminishing my confidence.

Mallory: Simply put, failure never feels good. In the moments and even days after the experience, failure has, for sure, negatively altered my confidence. I distinctly remember one interview that didn’t go as well as I had hoped. When asked about what I could contribute to the program, I found that I could not talk about my own skills. At first, I felt defeated and embarrassed. However, it’s crucial to me to view failures as opportunities to learn. I sat down with one of my mentors, and we discussed what went well and what didn’t during the interview. Her support helped rebuild my confidence. She also told me not to let one experience discourage me. Sometimes the only way to build confidence and comfort is through experience.

Maia: I think when dealing with failure there are short term effects and long-term effects. In the short-term yes, it might bruise your ego and hurt your confidence. However, I also think that the great thing about confidence is that it grows, so the failure will help you learn and in the end make you a much more confident person.


Caroline, Sidney, Mallory, and Maia are high school seniors gaining professional experience at Running Start as part of special senior year projects.

Caroline Tornquist will attend Dartmouth College in the fall. The most recent thing to boost her confidence was having her prom photos featured on her friend’s body positivity Instagram account.

Sidney Hobbs will attend the University of St Andrews in the fall. The most recent thing to boost her confidence was her Cum Laude induction in April.

Mallory Moore will attend the University of Chicago in the fall. The most recent thing to boost her confidence was a hug from her sister.

Maia Paz will attend Georgetown University in 2019. The most recent thing to boost her confidence was giving an award acceptance speech.


With Jessica Kelly, Leadership & Programs Director at Running Start.

Keep your eyes on these “Young Women to Watch”!

Meet the incredible Running Start alums competing to be our next #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador! Celebrate young women in politics, hear from these inspiring young women, and vote for the next ambassador at the Young Women to Watch Awards on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Click here for more info and tickets!

Additional speakers include: Reps. Yvette Clarke, Barbara Comstock, Will Hurd, and Tim Ryan; Ruth Marcus, Deputy Editorial Page Editor, The Washington Post; Anita McBride, former COS to Laura Bush; Sarah Chamberlain, President & CEO, Republican Main Street Partnership; Sandra Pepera, Director of Gender, National Democratic Institute; Rosie Rios, 43rd Treasurer of the United States; Eshauna Smith, CEO, Urban Alliance; Sharon Yuan, Managing Partner & General Counsel, The Asia Group; former Rep. Connie Morella; Running Start Board CoChair Tasha Cole, Vice President of Development, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; and Running Start Board CoChair Laura Cox Kaplan, Host & Creator, She Said/She Said Podcast.

Victoria Bright is Assistant Director for Alumni Engagement at Duke University, her alma mater. In this role, Victoria develops strategies to engage 70,000 Duke women in the U.S. and abroad in the life of the university and create opportunities for learning, leadership and mentorship. She previously served as senior aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi where she developed and implemented integrated communications, outreach, and legislative tactics designed to strengthen and maintain the Speaker’s position in her Congressional district. Victoria managed logistics for President Barack Obama’s 2013 Inauguration and the 2015 visit by His Holiness Pope Francis to the U.S. Capitol. She also served as policy aide to the Speaker on health, veterans and judiciary issues. Victoria earned her B.A. in Women’s Studies from Duke in 2010 and was a 2011 Running Start Star Fellow.

Sydney Burns’s career in politics was truly kicked off by Running Start. After completing the Running Start summer internship, she immediately applied to the Running Start Star Fellowship. As a 2017 Star Fellow, Sydney worked in the office of Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, and continued her internship after the Star Fellowship ended. Sydney then worked in Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Capitol office as a communications intern. From there, she was hired by the Committee on House Administration as a Staff Assistant, where she currently works with the Franking Director, the Election Assistance Director, and the Diversity Initiative Director. Sydney graduated from West Virginia University in 2017.

Megan Lehman is a proud Iowan and plans to run for North Liberty, IA City Council in the next two years. As a 2015 Running Start Star Fellow, Megan worked in the office of Senator Joni Ernst. After the Star Fellowship, Megan attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University. These experiences empowered her to begin her political career by applying for a local commission in her town. She was recently selected to join the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Legislative Council. Megan is currently writing a book about women running for office. She is also looking forward to volunteering for the next Iowa Governor’s race, as the state could have its first elected female Governor. Megan graduated with honors from the University of Iowa.

Anna Captain is a 2017 alum of Running Start’s Young Women’s Political Leadership Program. Since then, she has interned for Manka Dhingra’s campaign for Washington State Senate, recruiting and training volunteers, entering voters into the campaign’s database, and organizing for a special election that flipped the Washington State Senate. Anna has had multiple articles published about women’s leadership and plans to be very involved in the midterm elections later this year. Anna is Media Chair for Leadership Initiatives, where she works with other students to help a struggling business in Nigeria flourish under harsh conditions. At her high school, Anna is Junior Class Vice President and Philosophy Club President.

Lauren Covetta is a champion for mental health and women’s empowerment. She is a sophomore studying International Business and Political Science at the Ohio State University. Lauren was a Running Start intern in 2016, and since then, she ran for and won the positions of Fundraising Vice President for Delta Sigma Pi Professional Fraternity, and Corporate Relations Vice President for the Undergraduate Business Women’s Association. She was also appointed Director of Business Operations for the Student Philanthropy Council. Lauren was a Non-Profit Management Intern with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and worked within the Columbus community to provide free mental health resources. She has also led a social media campaign for the Center for International Education and Research’s international programs.

Cierra Jackson is a proud alumna of Spelman College and Women’s Campaign School at Yale. She was selected as the only White House intern to serve the Chief of Staff as their communications intern during her term in the Obama White House. As Miss District of Columbia in the Miss America Organization, she created the 1st annual Miss District of Columbia’s Day at DC Council. A military child herself, Cierra focuses her advocacy on her platform Behind the Frontline, to aid military children. She created the “Day of the Military Child” and has been featured in numerous publications and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces campaign. She is the author of a children’s book “CC the Military Kid,” that chronicles her life as a military child through September 11th and beyond college. Cierra is speaker and vocalist by trade, and is a 2015 alum of the Running Start Star Fellowship.

Brooke E. López ran for City Council in her hometown of Wylie TX at age 18, making her the youngest candidate in the history of the town. Though she lost, Brooke was appointed to the Public Arts Advisory Board where she currently serves as the Vice Chairman and is the youngest member and only Hispanic woman member. An alum of Running Start’s Young Women’s Political Leadership Program and Young Women Run, Brooke has worked as a Program Facilitator for IGNITE National, served as a Texas Civic Ambassador for the Annette Strauss Institute of Civic Life, and began forming a Commission on the Status of women for Dallas County (the first of its kind). Along with Texas State Representative Victoria Neave, Brooke advocated for Nahum’s Law in response to the tragic death of a classmate. Brooke graduated from UT Dallas where she wrote her honors thesis on women’s political candidacy.

Click here for more info and tickets!