The Youngest Congresswoman Ever Explains Why We Need More Female Leaders

by John Haltiwanger
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Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is not your typical Millennial. At the age of 31, she's already a member of Congress, where the average age is 60.

She's also the youngest woman ever elected to Congress in US history.

On Monday, Congresswoman Stefanik took some time to speak with Elite Daily about what it's like being a Millennial in Congress, the need for more female representation in American politics and Women's History Month.

It might sound odd that such a young female succeeded in getting elected to a legislature historically dominated by old white men.

We asked the congresswoman whether she ever felt as though her age and gender served as an obstacle when she was running for office. According to her, it actually proved to be a great strength,

Initially a lot of the advice I received was to try to be something that I'm not. So, because I'm a non-traditional congressional candidate a lot of these so-called experts wanted me to seem like an older candidate and not embrace my age and the fact that I'm young woman. I didn't take their advice and instead I really wrapped my arms around the fact people are looking for a new generation in Congress, and what better way than to elect someone who represents this generation? I am about half the average age of a member of Congress, and I was able to see my message of fresh energy and ideas resonate not just with Republican voters but Democrats and Independents.

Indeed, it seems what Americans truly desire right now are leaders who embody a break from tradition and exhibit a level of authenticity that has seemingly been missing from Washington in recent years.

Still, it's extremely impressive what Congresswoman Stefanik has been able to accomplish, but she remains very modest about it.

In her view, being the youngest female member of Congress in US history is not just an honor, it's a tremendous responsibility. She said,

It's an incredibly humbling experience. I didn't know I would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The media started covering this after I won my primary and an interesting thing started happening at campaign events -- moms and dads started bringing their young daughters... and for many of these families this was their first time at political rallies. [These parents] wanted to show their young daughters a role model and an example of what they could achieve… For me that's incredibly humbling, and I do take my role seriously as a role model. I try to lead by example and by bringing a fresh approach to Congress and a willingness to reach across the aisle.

The congresswoman is not just concerned with setting an example for young women, she's also extremely focused on helping her generation progress and is the Chair of the Millennial Task Force.

In her opinion, Millennials are already beginning to shape the destiny of the US, and they must be included in any discussions surrounding its economic and political future:

I think it's incredibly critical when we're talking about growing the economy...we… acknowledge and embrace the fact that... 2015… was the first year Millennials became the largest generation in our workforce. Politically, for the first time in 2016 Millennials will make up a plurality of voters. From what I've found… [Millennials] are interested in positive, constructive solutions to help make the government function more efficiently, more effectively and in a more transparent manner. [My biggest concerns for my generation] are growing the economy and creating jobs.

The congresswoman believes it's crucial politicians make a more concerted effort to connect with Millennials in order to increase levels of political engagement, and she's already working to set an example by utilizing social media in new ways.

She posts all of her votes to Facebook, frequently engages with Millennials on various platforms and publicly posts her official schedule. This kind of transparency is definitely something that can help establish the level of trust needed to persuade more Millennials to participate in politics.

It's no secret voter turnout for Millennials in recent elections has been extremely low, if not embarrassing.

During the 2014 midterms, for example, Millennials only accounted for around 13 percent of the electorate, yet they make up the largest voting demographic in the nation. There are concerns this trend will continue into the 2016 election.

This generation clearly has the potential to dictate the course of America and its politics, but it's not taking advantage of this.

Millennials like Congresswoman Stefanik, however, are definitely setting a strong example for what the future of this generation's involvement in the political process could look like.

Congresswoman Stefanik has also dedicated herself to increasing female political engagement, given the US has a lot of room for improvement in this arena.

Placing things into a historical context, the congresswoman stated,

We're making inroads [in terms of female representation in American politics], but we need to do more. If you look at the history of our country, over the course of the entire history of the US, about 10,000 individuals have served in the US Congress… only 300 of those individuals were women – that's 3 percent. Currently we have 20 percent of Congress made up of women. Women make up the majority of voters in this country. So I am working with many of my female colleagues to recruit more women to run for office.

America clearly has a lot of work to do in terms of establishing a government that is truly representative of its population, and many other countries around the world are far ahead of it in that regard.

To put this into perspective, data from the World Bank shows even Afghanistan has a higher percentage of females in its legislature than America (around 28 percent). Simply put, even in countries where women's rights are repressed in profound ways, there are higher levels of female political representation than in the US.

Moreover, as Congresswoman Stefanik highlighted, we could greatly benefit from more female representation in government in myriad ways,

Women are more likely to have bipartisan support. Women have the ability to reach across the aisle. In addition, I think women bring a unique perspective… and I think it's important to represent that perspective in Congress.

Women's History Month serves as a perfect time to come together as a nation and remind ourselves of the work we still have to do in terms of promoting gender equality, particularly in terms of female leadership. As the congresswoman put it,

[Women's History Month] is an incredibly important celebration of women who have made this country exceptional and it's an opportunity to celebrate our female leaders of today and of tomorrow.

March 8 is International Women's Day -- use it as an occasion to celebrate the women who've positively impacted your life and an opportunity to promote the importance of expanding gender equality.