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This Founder Sent Nearly Half a Million Opinions to Congress

People

Midterm elections are right around the corner! Are you ready to cast your vote? If not, Maria Yuan, CEO, and Founder of Issue Voter has made it easier for hundreds of Americans to learn about bills, get involved, and create an impact online.


For the past few weeks, a lot has been happening in the realm of politics. Some people question what kind of impact their voice has, prior to casting their vote.

Yuan wants Americans to remember, there is always an opportunity to make their voice heard. “On the news, we see a lot of issues that are very polarizing where sometimes people feel like there is little hope in terms of changing a reps mind," she openly says. “What I think is also true, that people don't always realize, is there are so many bills that are up for vote every year." Representatives especially take individuals opinions into account.

This is Maria Yuan, CEO and Founder of Issue Voter. (Photo courtesy of Maria Yuan)

“Our goal is to make year-round civic engagement accessible, efficient and impactful so that people can really stay engaged," she exclaims.

Issue Voter is a non-partisan online platform that lets users send their opinions directly to representatives. “Our goal is to make year-round civic engagement accessible, efficient and impactful so that people can really stay engaged," she exclaims. Yuan aims to empower voters to stay informed and take action on policies they care about.

A couple of years ago, she was managing a State Senate campaign in Iowa, which is known for its voter engagement. The lack of involvement in the polls ultimately inspired her to create and launch Issue Voter right before the 2016 election. “I saw so much focus on elections, yet just like most Americans across [the country] people are disengaged during the off-season," she shares. “We vote for and re-elect our rep without truly knowing the real work that affects our life throughout the year."

The mission behind Issue Voter is to give everyone an equal voice in this democracy. During each session, Congress introduces 10,000 bills or more. “Nearly 1,000 of them are voted on, yet we're only hearing about a handful of them on the news," she says. What the online platform does, is send alerts to users before Congress votes on a bill. “With those alerts, we summarize a bill, along with bullet points from both sides and [provide] links to related news articles." From there the user will receive an email and choose if they'd like to support or oppose a bill.

Shortly after, the user will receive a personalized scorecard that tracks how often their representative is supporting key issues before an election. In fact, Yuan happily and proudly shares the results of Issue Voter's impact survey this year. “About 95% of our users have said that they are learning about issues for the first time after using Issue Voter," she comments. “And 60% said that after using Issue Voter they were motivated to take another form of action."

Users are able to vote on a bill and send their opinions electronically, in a non-disruptive process. Yuan finds this method to be the best way to persuade representatives. “There are a lot of calls to action around calling your rep, but unfortunately you don't always get through," she says. “With those methods, you don't always get to see the actual results of your call." On the other hand, Issue Voter tracks the activity of representatives. It tells you how your rep voted, how often s/he agrees with you on a bill and whether they attended a vote.

Issue Voter is unique compared to other apps and websites. Here's why:

You Get Information About Key Issues

They focus on issues, not parties. “That's important today because 40 percent of voters and almost half of all millennials are registered as independents," she points out. “According to Pew Research, 48% of millennials do not identify with a political party." As a result, Issue Voter provides facts and non-partisan information, which Yuan believes is harder to find on other platforms.

You Send in Your Opinion

Issue Voter sends emails not petitions. Yuan thinks sending an opinion electronically and directly is the best way to influence a representative's decision. “I think that historically we've been told by the advocacy world that the best way to make an impact is to be disruptive. In the end, that's not going to be a channel that's going to allow for a majority of voices to be heard," she says.

Issue Voter is an Easily Accessible Website

This is a website, not an application. “We are the only website that provides users with a personalized scorecard on how your rep voted on an issue." It is an accessible user-friendly online platform. Users do not have to sign in to interact with the website when they get an email.

Women, in particular, have made history this year. According to a New York Times article, “257 women are running for the Senate this fall," and “235 women won House primaries in 2018." In the context of elections, Yuan shared a very interesting point; women have voted in higher numbers than men in every presidential year since 1980.

Though it's true, Yuan also expressed concern. “There is other data out there that says 2 million fewer women than men contact congress every year. So, while women might be voting in larger numbers than men in elections, women are not doing as good of a job voicing their opinion throughout the year." Yuan hopes more people, especially women, interact with reps and vote.

What can you do to get ready to vote? Yuan suggests a few tips to first time and continuing voters.

Register and Check Your Voting Registration Status

“Register to vote or check your voter registration. Sometimes States try to clean out those lists based on people moving, or on those lists being old. Even if you think you're registered, double check before voting."

Issue Voter has an interactive map, on a separate website, that shows users every States voter registration and absentee ballot deadlines.

Request an Absentee Ballot

“The second thing to remember is that if you think you might be out of town on election day, request an absentee ballot. That'll ensure that you're able to vote ahead of time, that your vote will be counted."

Make a Logistical Plan Before Election Day

“Make a plan to vote. [Block] time in your calendar, [make] sure that you can get to the polls, [and encourage] other people to vote with you."

Check Issue Voter

“See how often your representative is representing you."

Yuan hopes this year, there is a better turnout for the midterm elections. “The lowest midterm election in 2014 was the lowest turnout since 1942 at just 36%," she says. “I definitely hope that in 2018, we don't repeat those turnout numbers. I hope that significantly more people vote this election."

Outside of the realm of politics, Yuan is passionate about her company. She generously provides advice for young founders and those looking to become entrepreneurs. “Advice in general that I think has helped me, is asking myself, 'If I don't do this will I regret it?' and if I feel like the answer is yes, then I do it," she laughed.

“It's a simple question to gut-check and follow your intuition in decision making, and I think that is something entrepreneurs learn to do." It wasn't always an easy process when Yuan was building her company and team for Issue Voter. In addition to following their intuition, she also advises them to never give up and find time to network with other entrepreneurs to learn more about strategizing, building a company or hiring.

In the years ahead, Yuan is looking to make a big impact with Issue Voter. “My goal is to be a household name by 2020," she exclaimed. “Right now we have users in all fifty states in over 400 of the congressional districts." As CEO, she is looking for partners and fundraising opportunities to expand the company. “We are in 99.5% of all Congressional districts in the US; We've sent nearly half a million opinions to Congress, so that has been really exciting; but for us to go to the next level, grow, [and] give everyone a voice we need to fundraise."

Yuan and her team at Issue Voter have already helped Americans become civically engaged and informed voters! She hopes to inspire and motivate many more.

“We've sent nearly half a million opinions to Congress, so that has been really exciting; but for us to go to the next level, grow, [and] give everyone a voice we need to fundraise."

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.