Show Me Commitment to Women in Political Leadership

Republished from The Missouri Times

Missouri women have recently gained traction in political representation, but these advances have still left Missouri women far from equal representation. In fact, over the past 20 years, Missouri women have accounted for only 20 percent of elected positions even though they represent 51 percent of the population. Missouri women deserve a far greater voice in the policymaking that impacts their lives, particularly at the local level. 

Research demonstrates that Missouri women are poorly represented in larger municipal governments, and data show that when accounting for smaller local governments, women’s representation is even more bleak. When considering Black, Indigenous, and Latina women, there are even fewer. There is a significant opportunity to improve these numbers — especially at local government level — through local board and commission appointments. It is more important than ever to include women in political leadership for true representation. 

Women account for only 17 percent of elected local and municipal government seats across Missouri. For local appointed boards and commissions, where information is available, women only account for 22 percent of available seats while representing 51 percent of the population. With respect to particular bodies, women account for 15 percent of board of adjustment seats and 19 percent of planning and zoning boards. These appointed boards address fundamental issues within communities, including infrastructure, land use, and public safety. Local boards make recommendations to elected officials based on their research and can draft regulations for the municipality to consider. The exact powers of the boards and commissions depend on your locality, but these are meaningful bodies that have a significant role in our communities. The lack of women serving means that key voices are missing from important decisions that affect all of us. 

Thankfully, several organizations across Missouri are working with women seeking political leadership opportunities. For example, Missouri M.A.D.E. and WEPOWER collaborate with women’s interest groups to promote opportunities and provide development for those seeking political leadership. Through the national organization ReflectUS, these organizations are able to coalesce their resources to connect with a significant number of women from all parts of Missouri. To date, they have trained hundreds of Missouri women who are ready and willing to take on political leadership roles. Now, local governments need to take action to increase the number of women serving on local boards and commissions.

Many boards and commissions have standards regarding the qualifications of who can serve. Appointees may have to be licensed professionals in a particular field or work in a certain industry to be appointed. Some have political party requirements, like the Missouri Conservation Commission, which allows no more than two members from the same political party to serve. In some cases, there are geographic requirements for serving on boards and commissions, such as requiring at least one person from each congressional district to be appointed. These requirements are striving for the same kinds of outcomes that we propose. Diversity — whether professional, ideological, racial, geographical, or otherwise — has long been recognized as valuable to including the voices of those who may not often be considered in decision-making. In this case, women are no different. Every local board and commission affect women’s daily lives, from public works and parks to infrastructure and zoning. Women deserve a say in how these decisions are made. 

Women who are seeking elected leadership and appointments are qualified for these positions. Localities need to intentionally recruit women because it benefits the entire board or commission, and therefore, the community. When women are present in diverse, mixed-gender professional settings, there is higher creativity, more innovative solutions, and better outcomes which is better for democracy and all of us. 

Now is the time to make sure all Missourians are included, and we can start with local governments intentionally increasing the number of women serving on local boards and commissions. This will ensure that more women are recruited into the applicant pool and allow local governments to reach diverse women in the community who want to give back through public service. One of the first and easiest steps is for local governments to recruit diverse women in the community who want to give back through some form of public service. 

Representative democracy is important because laws are being made that affect every person, not just those in the most populous places. It is past time to recognize that women belong at all decision-making tables and that there are qualified women waiting to serve on local boards and commissions. Missouri can be a leader in democracy, but we have to take women’s representation seriously and prioritize women’s political leadership. 

Allison Gibbs is the director of Leadership Development and Special Projects at WEPOWER St. Louis and leads the Chisholm’s Chair fellowship program for Black and Latinx women interested in political leadership. Amanda Morrison is the founder and executive director of Missouri M.A.D.E., a non-partisan organization committed to identifying, recruiting, and training Missouri women to run for political office. Amanda Pohl is the programs director of ReflectUS, which accelerates and maximizes the collective impact of coalition members, people, and organizations working to expand political leadership of, by, and for all women.


Representative Democracy Requires Inclusion of All Abilities

Republished from Ms. Magazine

Last month we celebrated Disability Pride—a time to honor difference, raise awareness and promote visibility for disabled Americans. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was passed in July 1990, providing legal avenues for access to spaces and opportunities for those with disabilities. Yet 31 years after this historic law was passed, American women with disabilities continue to fight for an equal voice and opportunities for representation. 

According to recent research, in 26 states, there is no known disabled person elected at the local, state or national level. More concerning, women with disabilities are elected in only 15 states. In fact, disabled women represent only 2.9 percent of all elected officials, while 16.1 percent of U.S. women are disabled. As organizations and leaders advocate to increase women’s political leadership, it is imperative that we include women from diverse backgrounds and experiences in this work. Our government and society need women with different lived experiences to be active members of decision-making bodies.

The ReflectUS Coalition and its members have been working towards this goal for various communities of women, including disabled women. Recently, ReflectUS Coalition members RepresentWomen and She Should Run have worked directly on this important issue through research and training opportunities.

ReflectUS Coalition member RepresentWomen recently released a report, “Intersectional Disempowerment: Exploring Barriers for Disabled Female Political Candidates in the United States.” In this report, they found that disabled women continue to be underrepresented in political leadership. Among disabled elected officials, 8.3 percent are women, while 11.4 percent are men. This means that when people from the disabled community are elected, they are more often men. Consequently, the intersectional barriers of being a disabled woman are often underrepresented. 

In order to increase disabled women’s political leadership, RepresentWomen found that there are three areas where work needs to be focused:

  1. addressing accessibility barriers, 
  2. addressing attitude barriers, and 
  3. addressing institutional barriers.

With regard to accessibility, RepresentWomen found that by addressing accessibility barriers, the resulting public policy that develops not only becomes more accessible for those with disabilities, but also increases accessibility for others who may not experience the disability. For instance, the RepresentWomen report discusses curb cutouts for wheelchairs. When curb cutouts were installed for those with physical disabilities, it increased access to sidewalks for everyone like parents pushing strollers, bicyclists and people who have difficulty with steps. Previously, people would adapt to the limitations of public sidewalk design, but curb cutouts provided enduring accessibility  for the entire community. The success of the curb cutout policy also assisted in changing the public’s attitude around issues impacting disabled community members.

Regarding attitude barriers, the report highlights the importance of continuing to confront the social stigmas associated with being a disabled woman candidate. When women face questions about their qualifications due to their disability status, these questions cause harm and must be addressed. Political party leaders need to directly challenge these stereotypes and make it clear that ableism will not be tolerated in campaigns. Working to dismantle ableism will take time and intentional focus.

With respect to institutional barriers, the ReflectUS Coalition recognizes the power appointments have in addressing gender imbalances in political leadership. For instance, intentional appointments of women with disabilities will increase their political leadership. As the RepresentWomen report highlights, executive administrations and local governments responsible for appointments must make a commitment to inclusive representation. Political parties can reduce gatekeeping by openly recruiting more disabled women to run for office, working with disabled peoples’ organizations, and securing funds for disabled women candidates.

In addition to research and reporting, ReflectUS Coalition member She Should Run has been advocating for disabled women in a number of ways. In particular, they have been working to ensure campaigns are accessible to disabled community members. They have partnered with National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) to further this work. 

In a published blog, She Should Run and NCIL discussed the importance of candidates connecting with local disability communities. They stressed the expertise of disabled people and the need to involve more disabled people in all campaigns. She Should Run recently provided training with NCIL to discuss how ableism is keeping the U.S. from equal representation. 

Additionally, She Should Run is working around:

  1. advocacy for centering disabled women as experts in the field, 
  2. leadership development opportunities for candidates from a wide range of disability statuses, and 
  3. partnerships with organizations that provide specific resources for disabled candidates—all towards the goal of empowering disabled women in political leadership.

When disabled women are at decision-making tables, they give voice to the importance of access for all people. As the work of RepresentWomen and She Should Run illustrate, there are solutions to the challenges facing disabled women and their political leadership. 

In a society based on the principle of representative democracy, our institutions must be accommodating of all communities in order to truly be reflective of the citizenry. Hence, when disabled women are present to confront the barriers they face, change is not only possible, but inevitable.


“In Government, Women Continue To Be a Minority”: The Path for Women in Politics is Paved With Different Stones

Republished from Ms. Magazine

In spite of the gains women have made in the past several years, we are still subject to increased scrutiny from the media, can face sexist silencing by colleagues, and often must fight to break into established political networks in order to have an impact on the political agenda.

This struggle for women in politics is outlined in detail in the new ReflectUS (a coalition of which my organization Ignite is a member) issue brief, Ensuring Success: What Happens After Women Win. This brief affirms that for women in elected leadership, the path we travel is paved with different, often more difficult stones than for our male counterparts. As the only woman serving on the elected Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, I know that my journey is different from that of my male colleagues.

Women know we have to be experts to accomplish our goals. We also know that we are going to face sexism wherever we are—in a study published in 2020, it was found that 90 percent of people globally hold some sort of bias against women. The same study found that 39 percent of people in the U.S. believe men to be better leaders than women. Yet the research also demonstrates that women are becoming more educated, have gained a larger share of the workforce, and are increasingly becoming the breadwinner in families.

With the increased educational and economic advancement of women—while certainly not equal to men—there also comes the desire for increased political leadership. Yet, in the political world, women are often newcomers to their seats. In fact, men account for more than two-thirds of elected officials at the federal, state and larger locality levels, making the presence of more women a newer phenomenon that is often seen as an exception rather than the rule. Women are more than half the U.S. population and have never held more than one-third of elected offices at any given time at any level.

To date, only one woman has ever led the U.S. House of Representatives—Speaker Nancy Pelosi—and only one woman has served as the president of the U.S. Senate—Vice President Kamala Harris. Subsequently, 2021 was the first year in which the U.S. president has ever been flanked by two women on the dais in a joint address to Congress. It took 232 years since Congress was founded, 105 years after the first woman was elected to Congress, and 101 years after the 19th Amendment was ratified to get to this point.

Enough is enough.

Let’s hope that this issue brief sparks an important conversation around both how we attract more women to run for office, and just as importantly, how we ensure their equal treatment once serving in political leadership.

Shay Franco-Clausen is ReflectUS Coalition member IGNITE’s West Coast region program director and serves the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. She is also the director of gender and equity for the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee and an adult advisor for California High School Democrats. She is a mother of five children with her wife, loves to hike, surf and is a Bay Area DJ. 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.


The Change Women Need: Systemic Reforms Power the Path to Equality, RepresentWomen

Republished from The Fulcrum

The United States has a crisis of representation in government. Women are 51% of the population; yet only hold 27% of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the last decades, a myriad of training programs, including leadership development programs, have been created specifically toward getting more women elected. Even with these increased resources to support women running for office, at our current rate we won’t reach gender parity in political leadership in our lifetimes. In the year 2000, the United States ranked 46th globally for women’s representation in government at the national level, now the U.S. ranks 67th, alongside Mali, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, and Afghanistan. And the U.S. ranks well behind most well-established democracies in the OECD.

In other words, 66 countries have outpaced the United States in women’s representation – not because their women are more qualified or ambitious, but because they have implemented electoral systems and policies to ensure more level playing fields and greater opportunity in the electoral process. Consider New Zealand, a country often lauded for increasing women in leadership since adapting their electoral system from the “first past the post” model to the more modern mixed member proportional system. Similarly, in the nation of Georgia, political parties are incentivized to recruit more women and receive state funding for doing so, while in Ireland, political parties lose funding for failing to recruit enough women to represent their party. The evidence is clear – if our nation wants to accelerate greater gender representation and demonstrate that we truly value women’s political leadership, we need both leadership development programs and changes to our political and electoral systems. The history of women’s representation best demonstrates this need. 

In 1992, for the first time in the history of the U.S., women ran for and were elected to Congress at the highest rate of any decade. The year became known as the “Year of the Woman” and set in motion women’s most recent political gains. During this same period, our government failed to change policies and voting systems to make it more equitable for women to run. For instance, it was only in 2018 that women running for federal office were allowed to use campaign funds to cover childcare expenses. This important policy still isn’t in place in most states. In the year 2021, 29 years after the “Year of the Woman,” it is hard to imagine that women are still fighting these same battles.

Many have touched on the history made with Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate. One hundred years after the 19th Amendment granted many women the right to vote, Harris is the first woman of color and the fourth woman overall to be on a major party ticket for a presidential election. While no woman has served as the U.S. President, 13 countries around the world have women heads of state. Along with becoming one of a small handful of women to be featured on the ballot during a presidential election, Harris’ nomination illustrates the unique power executive leaders have to accelerate gender equality and parity by appointing women as running mates and to key leadership positions. Local, state, and national appointmented positions often perform a great deal of government work – writing policies, making decisions, presenting ideas, and so forth. More women in these roles increases women’s influence in the policymaking process.

While other countries have adopted innovative strategies to improve women’s representation, lawmakers in the U.S. have done little to address the constraints of our system. Additionally, more than 100 countries have implemented targeted recruitment practices for women to increase the number of women who run in the first place. In the U.S., women’s moderate successes in spite of these institutional barriers remain uneven across ideology, age, geography class, and race. 

The ReflectUS Coalition’s work on systemic change runs the gamut: we believe that every person and institution plays an important role in this work. Political parties must commit to recruiting women to run for office and commit to gender equality standards. Political donors can put their resources behind women early on in primaries and later in general elections to ensure women have the funding they need – funding that attracts other donors to contribute. Individuals can donate, volunteer, and vote for women who are running for office. Those in charge of appointments to Boards and Commissions must commit to gender-balanced appointments. There are also policy approaches that would greatly accelerate women’s political leadership such as modernizing legislative workplace norms with onsite childcare, paid leave, and proxy voting so women can serve effectively and rise to leadership positions. 

Without women, we are missing a vital opportunity to address real concerns for more than half the population in the United States. Gender equality should not be reliant on the success of one party over another; for equality to be achieved and sustained it must happen across the ideological, racial, economical, and geographical spectrum. As we move beyond the Suffrage Centennial and celebrate the women leaders who made the 19th Amendment possible, we must harness the energy for change and hunger for women’s representation on the ticket and in the cabinet and commit to systems changes which will last longer than a presidency. 

Tiffany Gardner is the CEO of ReflectUS, a national coalition of nine leading women’s representation movement organizations working to accelerate gender parity. 

Cynthia Richie Terrell is the Executive Director and Founder of RepresentWomen, a member of ReflectUS.

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.