Today is Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the day in 1920 when white women won the right to vote. It actually wasn’t until 4 ½ decades later — on Aug. 6, 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law — that all women in the United States were able to register, without discrimination, and cast their ballots as full citizens.
What women’s suffrage and the civil-rights movement have taught us is that if we want true equality, voting is just the beginning. Until a diversity of women run and lead in historic proportions, we will not realize the promise of democracy.
Keep this startling statistic in mind: At the current rate of progress, white men will be the majority of officeholders for another 500 years.
Why? After all, women win elections at roughly the same rate as men, and women vote at higher rates. The problem: Not enough women are seeking political office, largely because they are not asked.
The solution is simple. We need to create a large-scale system that asks women to take the leap. We don’t want just a few women scattered across the country; we want waves of women so we can feel the ripple effects of true equality at every level of government — from the local school board to the Oval Office.
Last week, Minnesota hosted the National Conference of State Legislatures summit, where men were the overwhelming majority in attendance. For the last 20 years, women’s representation in the state legislatures has hovered around 23 percent. We must try something different.
That’s why VoteRunLead is launching the only online platform for women to learn to run and lead. We are harnessing social networks as a new and powerful recruitment tool, and we’re conducting in-person trainings that build community.
Minneapolis is setting a national example, with its second woman mayor, Betsy Hodges. This November, in partnership with Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Foundation, VoteRunLead will host its first national training in Minneapolis. The training will give women the skills, tools and connections they need to achieve leadership in their communities.
We’re going to hurry history by filling the political pipeline with diverse women. By 2016, VoteRunLead will engage 5 million people across the country to invite 500,000 local women leaders to run.
On Women’s Equality Day we celebrate the hard-won suffragist battle for the 19th Amendment and acknowledge the women who were excluded from that victory. We pledge to build on that foundation — and take another step toward equality.
Erin Vilardi is founder and executive director of VoteRunLead.