Today, women comprise 51% of the United States population but hold only 24% of the seats in Congress. The disproportionately low representation of the women’s perspective has inevitably had drastic implications on the protection of women’s rights and the direction of policy on issues including equal pay, domestic violence, and access to adequate reproductive health care. To make strides on these persistent issues, we have to elect representatives who truly understand these issues and who will fight for their resolution; we have to close the gender gap in Congress.

While initiatives that provide training and financial support to women interested in running for office are invaluable resources, larger strides towards more equitable representation in Congress can only be made by addressing the gender gap in political ambition, which emerges much earlier in life. Fewer women hold political ambitions because few recognize that they are allowed to have such aspirations. A study by Lawless and Fox points out that young women are less likely to have been socialized to consider politics as a career path, to have been exposed to political information and discussion, and to receive encouragement to run for office.

We are not only failing to encourage young women to run for office but are also taking active steps to discourage them from doing so. When I decided I wanted to run for office at the ripe age of sixteen, my friends, family members, peers, and even elected representatives pushed me to reconsider my choice. “What about your family—who’s going to take care of them while you’re working at the state house or Congress?” “Do you know how closely female politicians get scrutinized in the press?” “Washington is a boy’s club; don’t bother going after a job you aren’t won’t be listened to in.” The list of deprecating comments goes on and on. Though I long thought these were unique to my overprotective circle of advisors and mentors, as I’ve met more aspiring women in public service, I’ve heard similar tales repeated more times than I can count.

As this trend became more apparent to me, so did the path to gender equality; if we were able to encourage more women to run for office, more women would win and be able to offer a different perspective in Washington. So, in 2017, with the support of the Resolution Project, I founded Leading Women of Tomorrow. Leading Women of Tomorrow is a nonpartisan organization that seeks to foster political ambition among undergraduate women by equipping them with the skills, resources, and confidence they need to become advocates in their communities. While our early programming primarily included speaker series with public officials and informative workshops on college campuses across the country, our members have done a phenomenal job expanding our conception of what it means to be a leading woman. They have taken active steps to empower women in other sectors. Last year, our University of Pittsburgh chapter hosted a salary negotiation seminar, while our Butler University chapter hosted a panel featuring Hispanic and Latinx women in leadership positions on their campus community and beyond. Through such events, Leading Women of Tomorrow is mobilizing leaders who will develop comprehensive legislation ensuring gender equality before the law, as well as those who will be able to recognize and address violations of this principle in their future workspaces.

For the last century, the representation of women in Congress has shown an incremental increase from 0.2% to 24%. We cannot wait another century for women’s voices to be heard and respected in the lawmaking process. For more women to serve, we must encourage more women to run; the younger we start talking to them about their interest in government and politics, the more likely we’ll be to encourage them to pursue their dreams of serving their country. If we identify and support the leading women of tomorrow, we could achieve more equitable representation in both the halls of Congress and boardrooms throughout the country. As their policies transcend to other levels of society, a gender-equal world may emerge.