When veteran tech executive Claire Lee got a call from Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff, she didn’t hesitate to get involved.
“(Hillary’s) campaign reached out to me and said you’re the kind of person that can get involved and help us reach the influencers and investors and the entrepreneurs,” says Lee, who is the head of early-stage banking at Silicon Valley Bank. “That’s how I ended up fundraising and spreading the word.”
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has made regular trips to Silicon Valley in an attempt to motivate the tech sector, including women of all stages. Her staff have reached out to existing groups for women in tech and business, such as one run by Lee called the League of Extraordinary Women. And she’s visited the homes of prominent female entrepreneurs, including Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, the CEO of a startup called Joyus, to raise funds and rally support. “(Clinton’s) campaign team are clued in with the Silicon Valley influencer network,” says Lee. “They are all over it.”
Some pundits say that women could determine the election. Clinton has won the female vote in all but three states: Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. But Sanders has tended to perform better with millennial women, which prompted a slew of analyses about the changing role of feminism. Early polls suggest that Clinton has a modest lead in California, but some speculate that Sanders is catching up.
Fast Company spoke to more than half a dozen of the young women who have been involved with campaigning for Clinton in recent months. Many shared that the experience has offered a unique opportunity to connect with prominent and experienced executives, like Lee, who they wouldn’t ordinarily have a chance to meet. Others have agreed to mentor other young women they met through these events.
“That’s the intention,” says Kate Maeder, an organizer for Ready for Hillary and Hillary for America. “We’re making intergenerational connections between different women.”
“Recently I’ve seen a lot of young women in tech, who previously weren’t involved in politics, get on board through phone banking and fundraising,” says Maeder, who is in her twenties.
It still remains to be seen which candidate will sway Silicon Valley voters. Clinton’s democratic rival Bernie Sanders has visited the area just three times, but according to the Wall Street Journal has still seen a surge of donations among Internet company employees. And while Trump is a very unlikely possibility because of his feud with Silicon Valley’s titans over issues like high-skilled immigration
But Clinton’s team has made the most concerted effort to court the Bay Area’s women in tech. And through that, new communities are forming that many female attendees say are more diverse — in terms of age, gender and sector — that then are used to. “I definitely see women of all ages attending these events — especially the ones that ask for a lower donation” says Lily Sarafan, CEO of Home Care Assistance, who has attended seven fundraisers for Clinton’s campaign.
Sarafan says getting involved in political work is a great way to network with more senior women because it’s a “natural ice breaker.” She hasn’t met any new mentors per se, but Sarafan she has mentored others and made good friends through the campaign. “It’s a happy side-effect that you meet with other engaged intellectual women — and frankly, also men.”
Schuyler Hudak, a media entrepreneur who previously worked as a political consultant, says many of the most influential women in Silicon Valley are involved with the campaign. “That’s an opportunity to get mentorship and guidance,” she says. “It’s great for women who want to be more engaged in politics, and expand their professional network.”
Likewise, Eileen Carey, a Clinton supporter who has been involved with the Clinton Foundation for more than a decade, says the network and connections are invaluable. When she first moved to San Francisco in her mid-twenties, the network put her in touch with a senior public relations executive who had previously worked for Bill Clinton. The pair went out for a series of lunches to discuss the next steps for her career. Carey now runs a company called Glassbreakers, which helps women find professional mentorship opportunities.
Alongside Lee and Sarafan, other prominent Clinton fans in tech include Battery co-founder Xochi Birch and Eventbrite co-founder Julia Hartz. Lee says the campaign is hoping to recruit more prominent women in tech. “There are a lot of funders that we want to get more mobilize who are still on the fence.”
Some Clinton supporters are still looking for female mentors through the network.
“I’d love to meet more senior women,” says Cynthia Yeung, a startup founder and Clinton volunteer. So far, she’s met several good contacts while waiting on line to catch a glimpse of the candidate speak. “It’s always a bonding moment,” she jokes.