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The Woman Behind A Massively Influential Political Movement

What does it take to lead the most politically influential organization focused on women in government? Time and research.

The Woman Behind A Massively Influential Political Movement
[Photo: Flickr user EMILY's List]

Since Stephanie Schriock became president of EMILY’s List, the political action committee focused on getting more pro-choice Democratic women elected to office, much has changed. The organization has raised more than $52 million and helped elect 62 women to the House and the Senate.

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But in 2010, when Schriock became president, she was the first to take over since the founder, Ellen Malcolm started the organization out of her basement in 1985. EMILY’s List–which stands for the acronym “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” in reference to the importance of raising campaign money early on–had grown to become on of the most politically influential organizations focused on women in government since its founding.

Schriock came into the role with considerable experience managing political campaigns. She had been finance director for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and had managed the campaigns of senators including Jon Tester of Montana and Minnesota Senator Al Franken’s highly contested 2008 race.

All those years working for male politicians made her see first-hand the gender imbalance within politics. “I opened up my eyes and looked in the rooms I was sitting in,” she says. What she saw was almost entirely men–a fact that became particularly troubling to her when the topic of women’s issues would come up. Often, Schriock would be the only woman in the room during those discussions.

She knew something had to be done and when the opportunity to take a leadership role at EMILY’s List opened up, she went for it. But stepping into that leadership role wasn’t easy given the precedent Schriock was following. How did she manage fill such massive shoes? “Sometimes you just have to go in with a new pair of shoes,” she says. “It’s just a path you have to take.”

Defining the Culture You’re Leading

For its first 25 years, EMILY’s List was driven by the personality and culture of its founder Ellen Malcolm. With Malcolm no longer at its center, Schriock had to figure out how to find a new guiding visions for EMILY’s List. She couldn’t simply take over and have her own vision replace Malcolm’s. She needed to create a fundamental shift in that way of thinking. “It took time for me to understand that culture,” she says. “How do you make that ultimate transition?”

Schriock spent a lot of time interviewing people involved in the organization–from staff to the board to candidates and volunteers. She wanted to figure out where EMILY’s List fit into the broader discussion of women in politics and women’s rights.

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Hiring People Hungry For Change

When Schriock became president, EMILY’s List had a staff of 30 people. She added 10 new hires and has since expanded the staff to 70 people, creating new departments including one focused on digital efforts. “The most important thing you do is hire great people and give them the time and resources to do great work,” she says.

She was looking for people who had more to offer than just experience and talent. “If you’re looking for one silver bullet in staffing, it’s bringing people in who are hungry to make change,” she says. “We are in the social change business. … You have to have that hunger for social change.”

Going Beyond The Numbers

Schriock wanted to help the organization move beyond just a strategic plan to having a vision that everyone involved in EMILY’s List could take ownership of. “We know our mission is to elect pro-choice women to office, but what is it we are trying to get to?” she says. “What happens when we succeed in our mission? … It’s about actually making women’s lives better.”

About the author

Jane Porter writes about creativity, business, technology, health, education and literature. She's a 2013 Emerging Writing Fellow with the Center For Fiction.

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