Forbes: Lessons in leadership: How the President of EMILY's List changed and diversified America's political landscape
By: Allison Norlian
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has worked with EMILY’S List, the Political Action Committee focused on electing Democratic, progressive women, for years. She’s repeatedly relied on the group throughout her political career, most recently during her run for governor in 2018, when they helped her strategize and provided counsel both before and after she was elected to office. More specifically, Whitmer came to rely on Stephanie Schriock, who has been the president of EMILY’S List for 11 years.
Schriock has been instrumental in raising significant funds for women candidates, and growing a robust network of supporters. Now, after more than a decade, Schriock is stepping down from that position, having presided over a laundry list of accomplishments.
Her journey began years ago. Schriock went to graduate school at George Washington University in D.C., and while there, she was determined to find work on a campaign. At the time, the late Mary Reeder, a professor, was running for Congress in Minnesota. A determined Schriock called Reeder and convinced her to hire her to be her scheduler. Soon thereafter, she threw all her belongings in her vehicle and drove from D.C. to Minnesota for her new position.
When she got there, she was hit with a shock: Reeder's campaign finance director had been fired. Because Schriock had experience in fundraising, they offered her the position.
“EMILY’S List sent out a finance advisor to train me. I would have been 23-years-old, and they trained me to be a campaign fundraiser,” Schriock said. “And that's how I truly got started in Democratic politics.”
“If not for EMILY’S List investing some time and teaching me how to fundraise, I would have never kept moving up the ladder of Democratic politics.”
From there, Schriock found herself taking on a whole slew of political positions, starting with finance director for the South Carolina Democratic Party. She worked at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for four years as a fundraiser and campaign advisor, then went on to be former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's national finance director during his presidential run. In 2006, Schriock worked on Sen. Jon Tester's senate race, eventually becoming chief of staff after his victory. A year and a half into that role, Chuck Schumer asked Schriock to run former Senator Al Franken's campaign.
Schriock took the job.
“I tell that part of the story because a couple of things happened along the way,” Schriock said.
“When Al Franken got into the race where there was a recount, and then we had to go to trial, which meant we had to go in front of the court. And it was here, one of my first moments where I saw how few women were engaged in all of this work.”
It was the beginning of an awakening for Schriock.
After completing her role with Franken, she went back to Senator Tester's office as his chief of staff. At the time, they were debating the Affordable Care Act.
“I am embarrassed to say I did not realize that maternity coverage wasn't automatic on people's health insurance; I just assumed it was,” Schriock said. “But it wasn't, and the fight that happened in the senate, where Senataor Debbie Stabenow (D- Michigan) had to fight hard in the finance committee to save maternity coverage for women in this country was just eye-opening to me.”
“I was looking around going – we need ten more Debbie Stabenow's. Holy cow, there aren't enough women here.”
Ironically, as Schriock experienced this revelation, she got a phone call from none other than EMILY’S List. Ellen Malcolm, who founded and served as president for the PAC for 25 years, was stepping down, and they were searching for a new president. They inquired whether Schriock was interested in applying.
It took a couple of months of convincing, but eventually, Schriock threw her hat in the ring. She was offered the job, becoming president of EMILY’S List, the PAC that had once helped her at the beginning of her career.
She started on February 1, 2010, and it wasn't long after that Schriock began to leave her mark on the organization and the nation.
When Schriock arrived as president, EMILY’S List had less than 200,000 members in their online community. Eleven years later, they have over 5 million. Of the more than $600 million the organization has raised to support women candidates since its founding in 1985, more than half has been raised under Schriock's leadership. Schriock expanded EMILY’S List staff from 40 to 120.
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election in 2016, more than 60,000 women have approached EMILY’S List about running for office. Since then, Schriock and the PAC have helped elect countless women, specifically women of color, diversifying the political landscape that has favored white men for decades.
“In Congress, we've seen Democratic women become nearly 40% of both of the caucasus. It's not enough. We're not done yet, but it continues to grow, and the diversity of women continues to grow, which is phenomenal,” Schriock said.
Schriock had a hand in helping to elect the first openly gay woman in the U.S. Senate, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first Latina United States Senator, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), the first Latina Democratic Governor of New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and the first-ever Black and South Asian woman Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris.
“I wouldn't be governor without both Stephanie Schriock and EMILY’S List,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said.
Although Schriock and EMILY’S List have helped make significant strides in America's political landscape, she says there is still much work to be done.
“There's no reason whatsoever that all of these governing bodies and all of the staff are not at least 50% women because that is what the population is,” she said. “And you have to be intentional with this work. It doesn't happen naturally. If it did, we would have a representative democracy with elected officials who look like our country.”
Despite her accomplishments, Schriock is stepping down from her post as president of the PAC. Even so, she is continuing to provide her expertise and experience to the public. Schriock co-wrote a book “Run to Win: Lessons in Leadership for Women Changing the World” with a foreword written by Kamala Harris, which also ran in Glamour.
The idea for the book began after Trump's election. For the first time, EMILY’S List saw women inquiring about running for office with backgrounds they had never seen before: a CIA agent, pediatrician, nurses, doctors, teachers, etc.
Schriock felt compelled to tell these women's individual stories.
“Because every woman and a lot of men can see themselves in these stories. And that's how you get more people involved in politics, as citizens, as candidates and activists,” Schriock said. “And then as we got writing, we realized that there were women who needed some basic lessons along the way to get started. And so it became a series of lessons on leadership.”
“Much of it related to running for office, but then we realized that running for office is about finding your voice and stepping up in whatever career you're in,” Schriock said. “Whatever you're doing – there are lessons for you in this book.”
Schriock hopes those who read it find advice to help them take the next step in their lives. Although she doesn't know what's next in her path, Schriock is confident she's left EMILY’S List prepared and equipped for the future.
“It's truly one of the biggest blessings of my life to have the opportunity and be part of this moment,” she said.
Schriock's book can be found on Amazon, Kindle, and in most retail stores. Here is an excerpt provided by Schriock:
Learn How to Make the Ask: Chapter 6
Here's a fun fact about me: I loved being a Girl Scout. The leadership lessons, the sense of community, and the chance to learn and make friends in an environment that was totally pro– girl power were so important to me as a kid. I loved that my mom was a Girl Scout troop leader one year. I loved that I got to earn badges, and if you looked in my dad's attic today, you would find that green sash I was so proud to wear. But what I loved most about being a Girl Scout was all the activities— community service, hiking, camping, and, yes, selling cookies. I never stopped spending a lot of time in nature, and in many ways, my future empowering women and raising money has merely been a continuation of the lessons I learned as a Girl Scout.
Think I'm exaggerating? Let me tell you about little Stephanie (yes, me!). When I joined the Girl Scouts, most cookies were sold door- to- door. We hadn't quite figured out the methods used by today's troops, like posting up in front of grocery stores and selling online. So I walked around my neighborhood and asked people to support our troop by buying some cookies. A classic win- win scenario, if you ask me! But I felt I could be even more efficient, so I asked my dad if I could sell to his coworkers at the hospital where he worked as the lab director. He said I couldn't go to the hospital to sell because there was a no- solicitation rule, but he had another idea. He gave me a staff directory so I could make my pitch over the phone. That meant that in order to make sales, I had to work up the courage to call adults I hardly knew, introduce myself, and then make my ask. It was a daunting task, especially for a nine- year- old, but my dad encouraged me to be brave. And boy, did it pay off.
Not only did I sell the most cookies but I also learned a valuable skill for my future career in politics and fundraising. I have to thank my dad for that, though my poor mom had to help me organize all those cookies for delivery! Since then, I've raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the different campaigns and organizations that I've worked for and led. It makes me laugh to think it all started with a cookie. Years later, when coaching candidates to do “call time” with donors across the country, I would tell this story to show I knew how they felt, and also to remind them that if a little kid could do it, they could, too. The Girl Scouts are still training future fundraisers….
Campaigning is all about asking for things. You ask for support, you ask for volunteer help, you ask for votes. And you spend a lot of time asking for money. Of all the things you have to learn as a candidate, that's the one most people find the toughest. This is my reminder that even if you never sold cookies door- to- door, you have spent your life asking for things— from your parents, friends, and colleagues. You can do this! Find that inner Girl Scout.