Biden’s Cabinet: Incremental Growth Is Not Equal Representation, APAICS and Higher Heights

Republished from Ms. Magazine

There are many reasons for women of color to celebrate after last November’s election cycle. We have certainly made some gains in positions of political leadership. Our nation elected the first Black, Asian and woman vice president. We also had a record number of women run and win U.S. congressional seats.

However, our national ReflectUS Coalition and its members know, one of the threats to achieving the success we’re all working toward is when politicians and other decision-makers believe the problem is solved. In the midst of our celebration, we cannot ignore some glaring gaps in representation that have intentionally excluded Black and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women to the detriment of representation for us all.

For the first time in 20 years, since the first AAPI (Norman Y. Mineta) was appointed, no AAPI will serve as a Cabinet secretary. The distinction of a Cabinet secretary position means a greater voice at the table, and the ability to steer major policy decisions through leadership channels. America showed us that our country is ready for women of color to serve at the highest levels of government—yet this exclusion of AAPI appointments on the highest levels is a halt in the progress for the fastest growing community. AAPIs, despite challenges from increased hate incidents, disproportionate impact from the pandemic, and other barriers, managed to substantially increase their voices at the polls, yet are left unheard by the president.

There hasn’t been a Black woman serving in the U.S. House of Representatives leadership since Representative Shirley Chisholm in 1981. Moreover, only two Black women—Carol Moseley Braun and Kamala Harris—have ever served in the U.S. Senate. When Vice President Kamala Harris resigned to take her place in the executive branch, that celebratory moment resulted in no Black woman replacing her in the Senate.

Women of color, and Black women, in particular, have been consistently praised for our organizing ability and civic leadership in turning out voters. Yet, when the time comes to acknowledge these crucial contributions to our democracy with positions of real leadership and authority, we are left empty-handed.

These blatant exclusions must be addressed. Our national ReflectUS Coalition and each member organization demand better from our political leaders. When those in power have the ability to increase women’s representation, and choose not to, we must address these underlying injustices and hold one another accountable.

We are certainly commemorating the significant accomplishment of electing Vice President Kamala Harris. We are recognizing the significant achievement of having more women in Congress than ever before. We are thrilled that there are more women of color in office and that the presidential Cabinet has broken barriers for many constituencies. We are proudly watching with our children as our nation loudly proclaims that yes, we all have a rightful seat at the table.

We also appreciate that while some women recently celebrated the centennial of the 19th Amendment and their right to vote, for many of our foremothers this right was afforded long after ratification. Hence, we view current accomplishments with the keen understanding that we must be ever vigilant and not accept incremental representation as meeting the mark for which we’ve fought long and hard.

When our leaders believe that there is no longer a gender representation problem because we’ve elected “more women than ever before” or “we have a woman vice president,” they fail to contemplate the nuanced failures that lack representation of Black women in the U.S. Senate and AAPI women in the core 15 executive agencies represent.

The reality is that our political system must inherently acknowledge the contributions and impact of women of color and be ever vigilant to ensure they are not forgotten or excluded in spaces of political leadership.

As the ReflectUS Coalition, our charge is simple: Women’s representation across the racial, ethnic, geographical and ideological spectrum is better for democracy and better for our country. It is past time for women to be equally represented and for leadership to prioritize the intersectionality of women’s experiences—for a diverse representation that is reflective of us all.

Glynda Carr is the President and CEO of Higher Heights and a member of the ReflectUS Board of Directors.
Madalene Mielke is the President and CEO of Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) and the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors for ReflectUS.
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.

Change Was Her: An interview with Erin Loos Cutraro​, She Should Run

Change Was Her: An interview with Erin Loos Cutraro, She Should Run

What inspired you to start She Should Run?

Every woman I’ve had the honor of working within politics has tirelessly come to the table to make her community, state, or country a better place.  And her ability to find her way—to push through the doubt, through the challenges—to that leadership role should be the norm as opposed to the exception. Our country needs smart, diverse voices and perspectives. And that’s what She Should Run is all about, a starting place that makes it easy for women from all walks of life to explore how they can bring their unique experiences to the table to make their communities stronger.

Who do you think of when you reflect on those women who shaped your life? Did any of them serve in elected office?

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up with many women who were positive influences in my life. And while none were elected leaders, they were all changemakers in different ways. My mom, for instance, worked full time and raised me and my sister as a mostly single parent. She was (and still is) a pro problem solver in all things. I also think of my best friend’s mom who was always involved in our schools advocating for the best learning environment possible and created safe spaces for us to just be kids. When I reflect on my childhood, I realize both of them were responsive, persistent, and anticipated the needs of those around them. That’s the kind of person we want in elected office – those who make the world go round as part of their nature. 

What advice do you have for someone who is already making change in her community but not yet thinking of running for office?

As the wise Rosa Parks once said, “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” The countless women organizing for change in their communities, those who serve on parent-teacher associations, the teachers, nurses, and home health workers – all of these women aren’t afraid of taking that first step to making change and I encourage them to think about how they could amplify their impact by running for office. 

What makes you hopeful about the future?

With a new generation of women leaders, we can create a government truly reflective of the people who get the work done. To build a better future for our daughters. So I ask, who is that woman you know doing the work already? Is it you? Change is here and it is her.