Erin Vilardi knew early on in life that there was a problem with political representation in this country. “I remember being 12 and flipping through a copy of Ms. and realizing that we needed more women in charge.” The facts have always been on her side. The US is 51% female, but our government has been stuck at 20% female for decades. We are ranked a dismal 97th globally in female political representation.
Vilardi has made it her life’s work to address these disparities. Her organization, VoteRunLead, focuses on recruiting and training women—especially low-income and rural women, and women of color—to run for office. “We are telling women that they are enough,” says Vilardi, a philosophy that resonated across every demographic. VoteRunLead has trained over 35,000 women; 61% are women of color, and over 40% come from low-income households.
And these women are winning. In 2018, 70% of VoteRunLead’s first-time candidates won their races—a staggering improvement over the normal 10% first-time-candidate success rate. Its alumnae include US Representatives Ilhan Omar and Lauren Underwood, young black women who have reshaped our understanding of what a leader looks like. And Vilardi, whose work has been featured just about everywhere, is just getting started. “I want more than 51% female representation in government,” she says. “That’s not just good for women. It’s good for all of us.”