“Start before you’re ready.”
That’s the advice Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood, gave to a packed auditorium at Scripps College’s Garrison Theater Jan. 30.
“In this moment when there’s so many issues that young people are interested in and concerned about, the most important thing to know is that there isn’t one right answer. Just jump in and start,” Richards, who most recently co-founded Supermajority, a political action group working to mobilize and train women for office, said.
Richards visited Scripps as part of the annual Roxanne Wilson Leader-in-Residence program, which brings to campus a woman who demonstrates leadership in both her professional life and volunteer service to her community and beyond, according to the Scripps website.
In addition to the talk at Garrison, Richards also participated in Career Conversations at Scripps Career Planning and Resources and CoverAction with the Laspa Center for Leadership, a program at Scripps that supports and develops future generations of women leaders, according to its website.
“Don’t wait until you know what the thing is you’re supposed to do, just jump in,” Richards told the crowd.
Richards herself admits this can be difficult advice to follow, especially for women.
“When I got called up [for the job opportunity] about Planned Parenthood my first reaction was ‘Oh my god how exciting,’” she said. “My second reaction was ‘I could never do that job. I don’t know how to do it. I’ve never run anything that big.’”
But Richards is confident that the narrative is shifting. She emphasized that women are now the majority of payroll, 53 percent of the vote, and the majority of undergraduate and law school students this year.
“This is a moment where women are taking the lead. Whether it is taking a chance on a job, doing something they think they’re not prepared for, or running for office,” she said. “40,000 women in the last three years have raised their hand to say, ‘I want to get trained to run for office.’ If they’re doing it, everyone can do it too.”
Scripps Associated Students President Niyati Narang SC ’20 called Richards “an example of allyship done right.”
“In the [Laspa talk], she spoke about the work that Planned Parenthood has done and continues to do to reach out to the communities with limited access to reproductive healthcare,” Narang said. “I believe she uses her platform and privilege to connect with leaders across many backgrounds.”
A main focus for Richards has been broadening inclusivity and engagement, both at Planned Parenthood and Supermajority. Politics professor Vanessa Tyson asked Richards during the Laspa session how she has carried out this mission.
“What were the types of initiatives that you took in a leadership role to make sure that Planned Parenthood became as inclusive as it has been?” Tyson, who is running for a state assembly seat in Whittier, asked. “It became much more inclusive under your tenure.”
Richards emphasized the ongoing nature of inclusivity and change-making.
“Sometimes it looks like an ocean of trouble and problems,” she admitted. “There’s just innumerable things to be done. We just focused on three things. And that was it. You can’t do everything, so find the things you feel like you can and have to do to make a difference, invest in them, and don’t stop.”
This article was last updated Feb. 9, 2019 at 10:01 p.m.