By Cynthia Richie Terrell on November 11, 2016
Janine Jackson: Cynthia Terrell directs the Representation 20/20 project at the group FairVote. She joins us now by phone. Cynthia Terrell, what now for diversity in Congress?
Cynthia Terrell: There’s never been a successful tale to tell yet about diversity in Congress, which is one of those, I think, undertold stories about this election, and so many other elections. There, of course, were a few great spots this last Tuesday, particularly for women of color. In the Senate, in the House, there will be nine new women of color, who happen to all be Democrats in Congress, three in the US Senate and six in the House, so that’s terrific. But I think the overall picture and the overall climate for change is not very positive for women or for people of color, and that’s something that we’re going to have to address.
I think one of the stark realities, in terms of global representation: The United States ranks behind 95 countries in women’s representation, and we just aren’t increasing at nearly the same rate as other nations. And that, I think, should be a huge indicator to people who care about reflective representation to pay attention to what those other countries are doing and to think, wow, are there some systems approaches that we could be employing in the United States to correct that imbalance?
JJ: The reason we’re talking about this, of course, is that Donald Trump has been elected president, and we think misogyny has a great deal to do with that. And we think that power has a lot to do with that, and it matters very much, not just who is in the room, but who is in the room and able to say, we will do this or not do that. And so the push, then, I assume, of Representation 20/20 is to encourage and to grow more women representation and gender parity in Congress.
CT: Absolutely, absolutely. I think, while there really is only one country, Rwanda, frankly, which is above the parity line, many countries, of course, have gotten much closer—countries in Latin America, countries in Europe—and a big part of that process has been being deliberate about the number of women candidates they were going to support and run and have on the ballot and have expected to win. And so I think we need to be more deliberate about that in the United States, and I think we need to do everything we can to address systems that disadvantage women candidates.
There’s quite a bit of academic study about the 30 percent threshold—that, in order for women to really be able to exert power and have influence in either a legislative body or a corporate body, for that matter, 30 percent is the minimum threshold for that. And so I think we need to do all that we can to ensure that both our state legislative bodies and our city councils and Congress itself at least get to that 30 percent threshold in the next few election cycles, so that women can begin to exert more power and display that bipartisanship that women are well-known for, and the ability to listen carefully, to prepare for hearings, all those things that we hear, seem to be true, of women’s leadership. That’s only going to happen, though, if we’re really deliberate about how we go about getting those women there.