Why She Leads: Mariel DiDato

Over 13,000 women have started their journeys to elected office with the She Should Run Incubator. These are their stories. There is no shortage of fierce women leaders, and with over 500,000 elected offices across the country, there is no shortage of seats waiting to be filled by them. 

What is your most memorable career and personal accomplishment?

My most memorable accomplishment actually is securing the Democratic nomination to run for Assembly in New Jersey’s 13th Legislative District. I entered the race wholeheartedly wanting the position and knowing I have the qualifications to be a successful leader, but feeling that I might not win the nomination because I am a young female. When I found out that I had won the most votes at the convention, I realized the only person doubting my potential was myself. That has been one of my proudest, most eye-opening experiences.

We’d love to hear more about your leadership path. How did you get to where you are today?

I’ve said yes to every opportunity I was offered. Many of those opportunities offered no immediate short-term benefit, and also put me completely out of my comfort zone. I wrote a lot, for free. I volunteered for various different organizations. I spoke publicly about policies that need to be changed. Doing all of those things gave me well-rounded experience and allowed me to network with big names in the field, not to mention they were all very personally rewarding. I do want to acknowledge the fact that I had the privilege to do so much free work on top of my full-time job. But I fell in love with civic engagement, specifically for women’s issues, and just allowed myself to be consumed by it.

In addition, I never allowed myself to listen to negativity. Whenever a controversial article of mine would be published, a social media storm of hate mail and Tweets would inevitably follow. I’ve been called all kinds of derogatory names. Family members who don’t share my views would tell me to quit, or to “stop trying to save the world.” If I listened to any of that, my name wouldn’t be on the ballot today.

What is your personal mission related to running for office? Why?
My personal mission is to improve New Jersey’s state policies, while also protecting New Jersey citizens from the negative impacts of the federal administration. To give a recent example, I am from a NJ town that is very near the coastline. My area was hit very, very hard by Hurricane Sandy. The defunding of the EPA, along with The United States potentially pulling out of the Paris agreement, will have a disproportional effect on citizens who live in environmentally vulnerable areas. We can support environmentally smart policies at the state level, and provide relief to those who are affected most by natural disasters. I plan to apply this concept across the board to include issues such as education, healthcare, and interpersonal violence, among others.

How has the Incubator helped you clarify your leadership vision?
The Incubator has helped me by providing me with invaluable articles and resources on running for office. She Should Run has made the vision of gender equality in politics much clearer, and provided a path for women such as myself to achieve that goal.

What are steps you’ve taken on your path to a future run?
My name is officially on the ballot! I am running for Assembly in New Jersey’s 13th Legislative District.

Tell us about your favorite She Should Run “aha” moment or success story. Why are you an Incubator member?

To be honest I don’t have any one particular “aha” moment. I am an Incubator member because it is a constant stream of good information and support. Women are up against a lot right now, and I am deeply grateful that there are organizations like She Should Run which are committed to empowering us all.

What’s your advice for finding time for your personal life (family, personal growth)? Dare we say it, how do you make time for fun in your life?

Ha! This is almost a trick question, as time for my personal life is consistently waning.

However, personal time is so, so important. You’ll burn out quick if you don’t take time for yourself (I know this firsthand). You can’t be everywhere at once, and missing an event every once in a while for the sake of your own mental health is OK. Just know yourself, be aware of burnout, and treat yourself. Get the larger scoop of ice cream. Sleep an extra hour here and there. Go for a walk on a nice day. You have to make sure your mental batteries are charged if you want to lead others.

Note: This interview has been shortened for clarity.