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Courtney Emerson

Year of Graduation: 
'05
Courtney Emerson

​“We need more women speaking up, engaging, collaborating in political life.”

By Lynn Horowitch ’81; P’19

In the United States, women have outvoted men in every election since 1980. Yet despite their presence at the polls, women are under-engaged by almost every other measure of political participation. According to recent research, women are less likely to write letters to their representatives or op-eds to local and national publications. They are less likely to speak up at town hall meetings, or to read blogs and political magazines. They are less likely to consider running for office (even at the college level), and are even less inclined to take political science courses.

To address these discrepancies, Courtney Emerson ’05 co-founded and serves as the chief operating officer for All in Together, a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing these gaps and improving gender equality in social, political and economic terms. “The goal of AIT is to amplify women’s voices,” Emerson says. “We need more women speaking up, engaging, collaborating in political life.”

Unlike EMILY’s List and other groups that support women candidates, AIT is nonpartisan and focuses on broad engagement. Launched in early 2015, the organization seeks to bring more women into the political process and start conversations about the role of women’s voices in leadership. All in Together now employs five people (most are part-time) and boasts an advisory board made up of leaders from government, the media and business. Its sponsors include multinational companies such as Daimler, Deloitte, EY, PwC, Sanofi and State Street.

As COO, Emerson is chiefly responsible for partnerships, programming and general operations. She was instrumental in planning AIT’s launch event in Washington, D.C., which brought together Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), along with other government officials and business leaders. “Our goal was to focus on the things we share in order to collaborate and drive change,” Emerson says. “There are so many polarizing issues and dysfunction in politics. It’s imperative to bring together women leaders from both sides of the aisle; change won’t happen unless we work together.”

To that end, Emerson organized an AIT event in Dallas in February featuring the CEO of the Democratic National Committee and the chief of staff of the Republican National Committee. That event was also attended by local business and government leaders. Additional events are in the works, including AIT forums this July at both the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

AIT’s latest venture is the Action Center. A new platform on the aitogether.org website, the Action Center seeks to level the playing field when it comes to women’s engagement with their elected officials by providing useful tools and resources that make it easy to take action. “Studies show that Congress receives approximately 2 million more phone calls and letters from male constituents than female constituents every year,” Emerson says. “Women are taught to be ‘good girls’; we vote because it’s our civic duty, but then don’t hold our politicians accountable once they take office.” The Action Center provides a quick and direct way for users to engage with members of Congress (writing letters, scheduling meetings, even tweeting) on topical issues such as the recent Supreme Court nomination, data security and encryption and the Zika virus.

To build AIT’s profile and to bring attention to the persistent gender gap in political and civic engagement, Emerson is an active blogger and presence on social media. She credits the Harkness table with helping her find her voice — and developing the confidence to use it. “It’s a game changer,” she says. “The entire mode of learning encourages you to speak up. Having the opportunity to try out your voice, to articulate your views in a space where that is encouraged and safe, is invaluable.”

Exeter also planted seeds that helped Emerson weather the challenges of starting a new venture. In an English class, Instructor Becky Moore, the JV girls crew coach, identified Emerson, who is 5-foot-8, as someone who might take to rowing. Emerson took to it indeed. She served as captain of Exeter varsity crew her senior year and rowed throughout college at Princeton, even competing for the United States Junior National Team. Emerson cites her rowing experience for teaching her about maximum effort. “You learn to push yourself beyond what you think you can do,” she says. “How well you do is proportional to how much work you put in. It’s empowering.” She also appreciated the camaraderie of the boat. “You know there are a team of strong women who have your back.”

While rowing took up much of Emerson’s time at Princeton, she earned her degree magna cum laude in politics with a minor in Near Eastern studies. But, unlike her more directed classmates, she did not have a clear sense of what she wanted to do after college. “I was very lost when I first graduated,” Emerson says. “Everyone else seemed to have a structured path.” She worked first as a research assistant to a professor at Princeton, but soon heard from an Exeter friend, Savannah Sachs, class of 2004, about the Center for Talent Innovation. Emerson was hired by CTI and began advising Fortune 500 and global companies on leveraging talent and creating workforces that tap fully into the global talent pool. While at CTI, Emerson co-led Levers to Leadership, a proprietary leadership program to provide resources that empower professional women to accelerate their careers.

Through her work, Emerson recognized that empowerment for women was more than a private-sector issue. “Part of me kept thinking that I needed to broaden my focus,” she recalls. “Political engagement is central to the women’s movement, but it wasn’t attracting focused attention.” This realization led Emerson and her supervisor and mentor from CTI, Lauren Leader-Chivée, to jump from an established organization and start All in Together.

Even with strong confidence, a powerful work ethic and a clear mission, establishing an organization is a daunting proposition. As COO, Emerson must handle everything from lining up speakers for events to figuring our AIT’s taxes to ordering paper for the office. “It’s amazing — and horrifying!” she says with a chuckle. “It’s like an iceberg; I knew it was going to be a challenge but definitely underestimated that huge chunk that’s under the water.”

Despite the effort required, Emerson finds her work satisfying. “Starting AIT has shown me how much I’m capable of, how much I can take on.” And confidence begets confidence. Emerson concludes, “The more choices and decisions I make, the more emboldened I am to make more choices.”