Political scholars and commentators referred to 2018 as another “Year of the Woman” because of the unprecedented accomplishments women saw in public office. Yet in 2020, many of 2018’s records were broken, and women reached even higher milestones in American politics.
More women than ever before ran for office, including the highest number of all-women Congressional races in the history of our nation. For years, the majority of women running for office were Democrats. Yet in 2020, a significant number of their Republican counterparts ran for office—and won. A historic number of Republican women will be representing their communities. Of the 143 women that will serve in the next Congress, 35 of them will be Republican.
Reaching and exceeding these milestones is critical to the work we’re doing to move toward a more representative democracy. When center- and right-leaning women are elected to serve, they bring important perspectives that are missing from national dialogues and conversations. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 68% of women identified their political ideology as conservative or moderate. Yet, two out of three women elected to state and federal level identify as Democrats. Supporting women across the political spectrum ensures that ideologically, socioeconomically, and geographically diverse perspectives are represented—and pushes our country toward better policy outcomes for all Americans.
When in positions of political leadership, center- and right-leaning women advocate for educational reforms and changes to policies that affect women, children and the entire family. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, women lawmakers on the right focused on programs to specifically support small businesses, farmers, and families that are struggling. They also work together and across the aisle on a variety of issues. For instance, Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst has been championing paid parental leave solutions, and U.S. Senator Susan Collins was joined by colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass legislation protecting dementia patients from elder abuse.
Likewise, Republican women leaders have been instrumental in shaping both U.S. foreign and domestic policy through appointed and elected positions. Secretary Condoleezza Rice was the first African-American woman and first woman to hold the role of National Security Advisor, as well as the first African-American to serve as Secretary of State. Among her many accomplishments, she was able to negotiate a crucial ceasefire between Russia and Georgia in 2008, which ended hostility in the region and avoided escalation. Secretary Elaine Chao was the first Asian-American woman to be appointed to a President’s cabinet. She has served in the administration of four U.S. Presidents. Former Governor Christine Todd Whittman remains the only woman to have served as the governor of New Jersey and later was appointed to serve as the Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Senator Elizabeth Dole, who ran the Red Cross and provided humanitarian aid to people worldwide, served as North Carolina’s first woman U.S. Senator.
The 117th Congress is the most diverse Congress in history, and a number of women on the right are continuing to make history. Iowa and South Carolina are sending their first Republican women to Congress. The first Iranian-American woman was elected to Congress. The first three Korean-Americans were also elected—including two Republicans. These accomplishments and more emphasize that having women from diverse ideological backgrounds in leadership is crucial as we work towards a more reflective democracy.
Women’s Public Leadership Network (WPLN) understands the importance of supporting center- and right-leaning women as they seek public office and obtain political leadership. Through online resources, grant-making efforts, and a network of state-based training partners throughout the United States, WPLN works to educate, organize, and inspire women to seek public office. As demonstrated this past year, having a support network and adequate resources is critical to a woman’s success in seeking public office.
In 2020, WPLN worked to remove the barriers women face when seeking political leadership roles in a number of ways. First, WPLN supported 11 organizations training center- and right-leaning women seeking public office through grants totaling $500,000—equipping each of these organizations to meet the unique needs of women in their respective states. Second, during training programs, WPLN works to remove barriers for women with families by providing childcare at every in-person training at no cost to participants.
WPLN joined the ReflectUS coalition because of the shared belief that when women are elected and appointed at all levels of government, our nation is better served. WPLN celebrates the accomplishments of women serving in elected and appointed roles at every level and emphasizes how critical it is for women to support other women as we build a more representative democracy. Republican women won elections across the country and gains in Congress in 2020, and ReflectUS celebrates this movement toward gender parity at the highest levels of government. As we look ahead to 2021, we know there is still much work to be done, and we are thrilled by this significant step forward.
Larissa Martinez is the Co-founder and President of Women’s Public Leadership Network and Board member of the ReflectUS Coalition.
Tiffany Gardner is the CEO of ReflectUS.
ReflectUS is a national, nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum.