Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler Praises Power of ‘No’ for Women Starting Their Careers

“We say ‘yes’ so much without acknowledging what all of ourselves that we’re giving,” Butler tells TheWrap

Courtesy of Emily's List

Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler believes in the power of “no” for young women who are at the start of their careers. The simple word encourages its user to stand true to their perspective, she said.

“So much I have found my contemporaries … really do sort of focus on getting to ‘yes’ — ‘yes, I can do that,’ ‘yes, I can help you with this,’ ‘yes, I can take on this additional assignment,” Butler told TheWrap. “We say ‘yes’ so much without acknowledging what all of ourselves that we’re giving.”

By solely focusing on the “yes,” Butler notes that people miss the “power of ‘no’ being a complete sentence,” without explanation and without apology. This simple “no” gives users the chance to “not only to protect ourselves in what we are consistently giving to others around us, but to determine for ourselves and declare that we’re standing … in our opinion … is enough,” according to Butler.

Emily’s List, a longtime force in Democratic fundraising with close ties to Hollywood, appointed Butler its third president in 2021. Butler, who has been a prominent voice in Democratic politics, campaign strategy and the labor movement for two decades, chose to hone her own power of “no” while working with labor unions in California, and was encountered a situation that would have compromised her values had she said “yes.”

At the time, Butler and her team worked to increase the minimum wage to $15 and provide paid time off for caregivers, who, at the time, were the only group of workers in the state that did not have access to guaranteed paid time off. When the governor’s team proposed a deal that would increase the minimum wage to their goal, but wouldn’t agree to the paid time off for caregivers, Butler chose to walk away.

“You learn that can’t trade your values … increasing the minimum wage was important, but these women being equally seen as workers in our economy was also a priority,” Butler said. “For me, being uncompromising and clear about my value set and the value set of those organizations that I was representing at that table was what sort of strengthened my resolve to be able to walk away.”

Butler’s decision to take a stand paid off, as ultimately the governor called her team back and said they could work out an agreement to include both priorities. 

“It surely was a challenging thing on understanding the importance of my representation as a Black woman from the south in that room,” Butler said, adding that the moment stands as an “important lesson” as a challenge that “might have been a difficult situation otherwise.”