Badass Women spotlights women who not only have a voice but defy the irrelevant preconceptions of gender. (Not to mention, they are exceptionally cool.) Here, Erin Vilardi talks about her success in training women how to run for office with her organization VoteRunLead.
Why she’s a badass: Since the 2016 election, Vilardi’s VoteRunLead organization has taught 3,000 women how best to hone their individual skills and run for public office through online and in-person courses. In total, they’ve taught nearly 26,000 women how to run in four years, according to their Facebook page. One of their trainees, Ilhan Omar, has become the first Somalian-American woman to be elected to any state legislature. Now, Vilardi wants to up their game even further, with an aim to train 30,000 female future leaders how to run (and win) by 2020.
Getting her start: A year after her college graduation, Vilardi first developed the initial VoteRunLead program while working for The White House Project, a non-profit that was aimed at increasing female representation in fields like government. Her team traveled the country raising awareness about female leadership opportunities in public offices. After about eight years with the WHP, Vilardi left to travel abroad. “The national conversation on women's leadership was really heightened and I wanted to use my expertise more globally,” Vilardi explained to InStyle.
In 2013, she met with some of her former colleagues who’d worked at The White House Project in different states to re-hatch her VoteRunLead program as a full-fledged organization. She now calls the group “VoteRunLead 2.0” with a more nuanced goal of teaching women how to run specifically for political office. “Now I'm trying to convert thousands of women into candidates in a short amount of time to continue the momentum [post-2016 election],” Vilardi said.
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Overcoming obstacles: “I think [women] are still heavily socialized out of political ambition,” Vilardi said. Adding that she thinks the key to equal representation in politics is simply making it worth it by showing women how to improve their existing skills and focus on collective leadership. “I'm inspired a lot by the collaborative leadership happening.” Vilardi wants to amplify the joined voices of the thousands of women who’ve signed up to participate in VRL programs for a wider array of impact.
Personally, Vilardi and her co-founders found it challenging to own their weaknesses and realize they had to hire a COO with complimentary talents if they wanted to reach their goals. “My co-founders are amazing, but we all have similar skill sets. So it was important to realize we can take this pretty far, but we need other talent that we don't have [to get further],” Vilardi said. “Hiring a partner who doesn’t necessarily think like I think, who is complimentary not parallel was really a game changer for me.”
Career advice: Vilardi has learned to put herself first in order to advocate for others. She champions figuring out what you want, going after it, trying new things, and going easy on yourself when s—t doesn’t go the right way. “You [master that] in the room, and you're on top of the world.” She added that it took time for her to learn when to let other members of her team lead, but it was crucial to the their success. “As a leader, as a CEO, as someone who's running the ship, you always have to be in forward mode, go mode, but you also have to be aware of when [a particular project] is something I'm mucking up rather than contributing to.”
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Post-election promise: “If we want pay equity, if women want to make a dollar to every man's dollar, then we have to realize that men are not going to carry the water for that legislation,” Vilardi said. “They don't even understand harassment—they're telling us that right now. So we have to be the authors of that legislation.” Women have to be in positions of political power to spend government money and energy on improving things that impact their daily lives.
And since the 2016 election, Vilardi’s seen an uptick in women signing up to just that (nearly 10,000 have signed up to participate in VLR programs since last November). “What's happening is a lot of opportunities are coming our way—women are waking up to political leadership, waking up to run,” Vilardi said. “So we're trying to grow while dealing with this really interesting political time of high participation and increased ambition.”
She says their aggressive three-year growth plan includes increased hiring and figuring out how to leverage technology to better deliver their curriculum. “I want to see us go from roughly 20 percent women in politics all over the country to, in a few years, let's go to 30 percent. I’ll take that growth rate,” Vilardi told InStyle. “And VoteRunLead can contribute to that.”
Visit votererunlead.org for more information on VoteRunLead