Thank you so much for that warm welcome, it is truly humbling and empowering at the same time to be here today. But I want to let you in on a little secret. I had no idea I would be the youngest woman ever elected to congress when I first started my campaign. And I only found out about this historic fact after I won one of the toughest primaries in the country last election cycle.
And amazing things started happening as the media covered my campaign. Moms and dads started bringing their young daughters to campaign events. These were republicans, democrats, independents, families that had never been to a political rally before. But their parents would introduce me to their elementary school aged children, and say to them, we want them to see an example of what they too can achieve.
That was one of the most humbling things that ever happened to me. I remember that every day while in office in congress, and it still happens. Every single week, women from New York State, young women from across this country, reach out to my office to get advice on how they can make a difference in their communities.
I wanted to share three lessons today, I’m sure many of you in this room constantly have young women approach you, to learn from you, learn how to achieve the work-life balance, to ask how your able to crack the glass ceilings in your industries. So I thought I would share my lessons today.
So first, is the power of fearlessness, no one thought I could win my election, the odds were 100 to 1 against me. When I first started to think about running for congress, I was 28 years old. I was 29 when I announced my candidacy. I had the courage to step in the race, to challenge a three term popular incumbent, who was quite well liked in this district. But I wasn’t running against him, I was running for the reason that I think we need a new generation of leadership in Washington. I talked about how we need more women representing our perspectives.
The experts told me, every political expert or consultant that I spoke with said, you’re not going to win, you have to be something you’re not, but that early courage and that fearlessness, and that willingness to lose, the courage to step into the arena was so important, and it’s why I’m here today.
The second lesson, which I think is very important, is embrace your authenticity, and embrace your unique perspective as a woman. Again, the advice was “be a typical candidate” the average member of congress was 58 years old, and they’re a man. People wanted me to dress differently, to sound differently, to speak differently, I even was criticized for wearing patterned tights, because that’s not what a congressional candidate does, but that’s pretty normal for a 29/30 year old young professional woman.
Instead of that, I embraced the fact that I was a young woman. I talked about how we need new demographics represented in the house of congress. You know what? It worked. My first poll I was down by 30 points. By the end of my primary and general election, I won by over 20 points, by getting the support from republicans and democrats and independents. This is what people are looking for.
My last lesson is, nothing replaces hard work. This is something that I was taught as a young girl. One of the mottos my dad used to share with me is, Elise, don’t tell me how smart you are, and tell me how hard you work. As each of us meet with young women, I think it’s important to be honest with them. Women have to work harder. We have to juggle different aspects of our lives. We have different challenges that men may not face. I always tell young women, you have to be willing to put in the hours, and you have to be willing to work harder.
For me, I travelled over 100,000 miles in a truck, in one of the biggest congressional districts on the east coast. I would travel three hours to meet with 5 people, get stuck in a blizzard along the way, but that hard work is what made me win in the end by such an overwhelming 20%. I’ve been in congress a little over 9 months, and it’s been a rollercoaster this past year to say the least.
I want to leave you all with a call to action. In the history of our country, approximately 10,000 individuals have served in the United States congress. Of those 10,000 individuals, only 300 have been women. And of those 300, 100 are currently serving today. 300 out of 10,000. That is .03%. Women are not a coalition group. We are the majority of voters in this country. Every single issue that we face, whether it is economic policy, foreign policy, healthcare issues, veterans issues, all of them have a unique impact on women, and we need to do whatever we can to encourage more young women to run for office.
Because .03% is not acceptable. So I implore you, talk to your friends and neighbors, and share my story, share stories like that of Kirsten Gellibrand that we’re going to hear today, to show them examples of young women who can step up to the plate. Show that fearlessness, work harder than the person next to you or your opponent, an embrace your authenticity and embrace the fact that you bring a unique perspective as a young women.
Thank you so much, it’s my first time at this conference, and I’m so thrilled and humbled to be here.
Speech from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6HJYJsf89c.