Courtney Peters-Manning decided it was time to run for office immediately after the 2016 election election results came in. Upset by the "incredibly divisive rhetoric" coming from all sides of the political spectrum during the campaign year, Peters-Manning, 39, felt inspired to do more.
"The election was a kick in the pants that I had to step up and be more involved," she said.
She signed up for an incubator program with She Should Run, an organization that trains women for public leadership roles, becoming one of more than 4,500 women who have decided to run for office through the program since the election. The just-launched incubator is designed to build a community of women interested in entering politics and provide them with the tools to do so, the group's co-founder and CEO Erin Loos Cutraro said.
Women remain the vast minority in government positions in the U.S., making up only about one-fifth of Congress despite accounting for more than half of the population in the country. Representation is paltry at the state level as well, with the proportion of women in state legislatures at just 24.8% going into 2017, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Cutraro, who was not expecting more than a couple hundred women to kickstart their political careers through the incubator, said mobilizing the thousands of women who joined is a welcome challenge. The incubator will help women "connect the dots between their current leadership skills and what it takes to run for office," through online courses that help them network and build a personal brand, Cutraro said.
The incubator is a digital resource that offers online courses for women interested in sharpening leadership skills and provides a community for women to build out a political network, Cutraro said. Through the incubator, women will find access to established women political leaders and lawmakers and advice on every step of running for office, including tips on dealing with sexism in elections.
Women signed up in droves following the election because they seek a community, according to Cutraro.
"They feel compelled and want to be part of a fabric of voices that are wanting to be heard and wanting to make the case for smarter policy solutions and be part of that," she said.
For Peters-Manning, the opportunity to run for office seemed like a distant dream. Two small children and a full-time job as director of finance and general counsel at the Cambridge School in New Jersey kept her busy enough. A lawyer by training, Peters-Manning said her financial and legal skills would be beneficial in a political role.
She wants to run for office within the next few years, hoping to be involved in the state legislature or the county government in her home of Pennington, N.J.—where she said only two women make up the seven-person board of local legislators. Women "absolutely" need to be more involved in government, Peters-Manning said.
"I think women are particularly good at finding common ground, and we need that more than ever," she said. "Women tend to be uniters, and the ones who come up with the plans and bring people together."
By signing up for the incubator program, Peters-Manning said she now has a definite place to focus her energy.
"I'm hoping to learn where to start," she said. "I had a dream. I needed something concrete to push that dream forward."