The day after the election one of our most loyal supporters wrote me this: “I swore I’d never give another dollar to either politics or philanthropy. I’ve been so cynical that both have just become big business with no higher moral authority than our worst of corporate America. I’ll get over it, but how could every pollster get it so wrong — other than to create a new reason to start giving millions, if not billions, to keep them in business.” I could not honestly refute her.
Let’s be honest. This election, women hit a concrete wall. We did not elect the first woman President. We have made zero gains in Congress and in state legislatures across the country. The number of women governors declined — from a whopping 6 to 4. Moreover, women’s progress towards parity has stagnated over the last several election cycles. If we are ever to reach parity in our lifetime, it is important to acknowledge this fact. What we have been doing is no longer working.
Just look at the numbers: the US has 500,000 offices across the United States; only 110,000 of those positions (22%) are held by women. That number has not significantly shifted in several elections.
So how do we get to parity once and for all?
One way to make this happen to disrupt the silo-ed way in which the women’s political sector has traditionally worked. We must engage the existing powerhouse organizations to actively develop and implement coordinated plans to test what works to move the needle on political parity in communities across the country. Organizations can no longer act alone; it simply does not work.
Creating political parity is a long game, and one that requires that we not just throw millions of dollars at federal elections every two years. Here what must be done:
- We have to invest in the next generation of female political leaders (like non-partisan organizations like IGNITE and Running Start do).
- And we must recruit and train candidates to run now (like what VoteRunLead and She Should Run do).
- And we must engage existing elected leaders to guide these women into office.
- And we must investigate how we can create electoral systems that help elect a diverse candidate pool (like what Representation 2020 does).
Most important, we need to do all this work together, in a coordinated way, and share resources to make it happen (which is scary for all of us). Last and most important, we must be ruthless in our evaluation and assessment of what is working and what is not.
I too have had a crisis of faith, in our democracy, and frankly in the organizations I thought were solving this problem (and I run one of those organizations). Moments like this provide an opportunity to make a profound change in what we do. We can chose to stay a safe course and continue to hit the wall or we can take risks and embark on new ways of being and doing. It’s time to make that change.