A deeper look reveals stark differences in the rate at which different political parties and regions of the country elect women. The number of elected women serving in the House of Representatives has increased just 9% in the last 25 years while women’s representation in the Senate has increased by 13 percent. Women’s representation in state legislatures has grown by only 4% over that same time period and the representation of women as mayors and on city councils is under 20%.
The voices of women of color and younger women are not being heard in the corridors of power either. We will not reach parity for women across the political, racial, age, or geographic spectrum in our lifetimes at the current rate of change.
Research confirms that structural reforms - which complement current strategies - are one of the main reasons that 95 nations are electing more women than the U.S.
Title IX leveled the playing field for girls and women in education & athletics while the Voting Rights Act addressed systems that disadvantaged people of color. Republicans led the way nearly 100 years ago to enact gender quotas for their state and national party committees as well as convention delegates from many states, with the Democrats following suit. The common thread is that we addressed inequality by changing the rules and laws - not by expecting individuals to change.
We need to improve recruitment processes so that more women run, adopt fair voting systems so that more women win, and embrace legislative practices so that more women can serve and lead.
Recruiting women to run for office is one of the central challenges to winning gender parity in the United States. RepresentWomen challenges political parties, PACS, and donors to commit to intentional actions to ensure that more women are recruited to run. These voluntary targets mimic the recruitment practices that are used in over 100 nations to fuel the election of women candidates.
Political parties in many states and localities play a significant role in deciding who runs for office - they must be challenged to be deliberate about the number of women candidates they recruit.
Local, state, and national political parties should establish Gender Parity Task Forces to assess the status of women’s representation and determine targets for the recruitment of women candidates. Ideally, local and state parties that meet their targets should receive Gender Parity Grants financed by donations from those who care about increasing the number of women elected to office. Pressure from party members may also work to make parties recruit more women candidates and to hold them accountable for their action - or lack of action as the case may be.
An annual report should be prepared by the local or state party on the status of women’s representation in its own leadership, in the number of female candidates, nominees, and general election winners in the most recent election, and its plans to recruit women for upcoming elections.
Political Action Committees (PACs) play decisive roles in recruiting, endorsing and funding candidates - they must be challenged to be intentional in the number of women candidates they recruit, support, and fund.
Members of PACs and endorsing groups, especially those with member-driven priorities, from the Sierra Club to organized labor, the faith community and the Chamber of Commerce, should set targets for intentional action in endorsements and political giving. While women-oriented PACs like EMILY’s List, Susan B Anthony List, and The WISH List already are committed to supporting female candidates, other PACs should intentionally and deliberately commit to contributing a certain share of their funds to female candidates.
PACs should be encouraged to discuss and propose targets for their giving for all levels of elected office. With public attention, parity funding of male and female candidates may develop into a comparative advantage for PACs, which operate in a competitive environment and are always on the lookout for new ways to appeal to donors.
Individual donor contributions are crucial to the success of women candidates for every level of office - and often are the first test of a candidate’s viability - they must also be challenged to set targets for the number of women candidates they support or the proportion of their total donations that go to women candidates. Donors may choose to set their own targets for support of women candidates or work in concert with others to make their pledge public. Influential donor pledges to support women candidates will help to build public pressure for increased support of women candidates.
The type of electoral system used in counties, cities, and states has a clear impact on women's electoral success. Multi-winner districts (where more than one person represents a community) are more likely to elect women candidates. Ranked choice voting - a system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of choice - elects more women as well.
Fair representation voting combines multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting to create openings for women, people of color, and all parties in areas that are now one-party strongholds. It is in use today across the country and can be used at the local, state, and federal level without amending the U.S. Constitution.
Women are more likely to win in these fair representation voting systems because political parties are more likely to recruit women to run, voters are more likely to vote for women candidates when electing multiple representatives, fewer incumbents win re-election, campaigns are more civil, and candidates spend less money to get elected - focusing instead on grassroots outreach.
RepresentWomen's research shows that among the largest 100 cities in the United States the average percentage of women on city councils with only at-large seats is 41% while the average percentage of women on city councils with only single member district seats is 28%.
RepresentWomen calls on city, state and national legislators to reform their internal practices and culture so that women legislators can serve and lead effectively. Erratic work schedules, low pay rates, geographic distance, and unfair leadership selection processes make serving a challenge for many women - especially those caring for children and managing households.
To make the governmental workplace one in which more women officeholders can thrive, legislative bodies should enact the following internal process reforms:
RepresentWomen calls on gatekeepers at the city, state, and federal level to demonstrate a commitment to gender parity by appointing women to key leadership positions - like committee chairs - when they become available.
Although global representation of women is steadily increasing, cultural, political, and systemic barriers to women in elected office remain. More needs to be done to reach full gender parity, so that women can run, win, serve, and lead effectively.
Three of the most powerful mechanisms for change around the world are:
Recruitment targets: Seventy one of the nations that rank above the United States in women’s representation have some type of quota system - to learn more about these voluntary, legislated, or mandated quotas visit the Quota Project and Representation20/20's quota spreadsheet that is based on data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Quota Project. This strategy is widely credited with having the clearest impact on the number of women elected.
Fair representation voting: The vast majority of countries that rank above the United States, use multi-winner districts with some form of proportional representation or ranked choice voting system to elect legislators. To learn more about how the countries that rank above the United States in women’s representation vote visit Representation20/20's voting system spreadsheet.
Improved Legislative Practices: Many countries have instituted legislative practices like child care, telecommuting, and merit-based committee leadership selection so that women of all ages can balance the opportunities for civic service with child-rearing and other family responsibilities.