Partners in Parity: How 13 Organizations in Michigan, Mississippi & Washington are Paving the Way
To rapidly accelerate the pace of change toward gender parity in state legislatures, pivotal policymaking bodies, The Ascend Fund is making targeted, transformational investments in 13 state and local organizations in Michigan, Mississippi, and Washington. These investments totaling $600,000 make up a pilot initiative that will inform how organizations nationwide can empower and train diverse women to run for the state legislature – and win. As part of this initiative, our new partners will form coalitions in each state that will work together to build a truly reflective democracy – in which women and people of color are fully represented.
Across the United States, women make up 51% of the population, but only 31% of state legislators. In order to set us up to reach gender parity more quickly, we chose to invest in three states – Michigan, Mississippi, and Washington – that represent a spectrum of women’s representation in politics.
More than two dozen organizations answered our open call for proposals across these three states. To ensure that diverse perspectives were heard in the proposal review process, we utilized an external review committee to evaluate applicants and help select awardees. We're providing grants ranging from $15,000 to $100,000, with the average grant being $50,000.
We view this as an initial investment. Organizations working to build pathways to public office for women are deeply underfunded, and to achieve transformational results, we must massively increase investment in this space. We view these grants as an initial investment and are actively seeking additional funding to maximize our impact and ensure our partners are fully able to meet their communities’ needs.
To accelerate the pace of change toward gender parity, our state partners will identify common barriers to elected office that are unique to their state and political environment and design strategies to remove, reduce, or circumvent then, allowing more women to run. They will analyze legislative districts and identify seats with the greatest opportunity and then leverage the coalition members’ grassroots networks to recruit diverse candidates on both sides of the aisle. And to increase the likelihood that women win, the coalition will provide candidates with the training, tools, resources, and support to successfully run for office.
Meet Our New Partners
Our new partners are implementing bold, innovative strategies to dramatically increase the number of diverse women serving in their state’s legislature. To meet the needs of all women, we intentionally prioritized organizations that reach a diverse audience of women across race, sexual orientation, political party, socio-economic status, and geographic location.
Washington – Parity is Possible
For more than a decade, from 1993 to 2004, Washington ranked 1st in the nation for women’s representation in the state legislature. But progress and the state currently ranks 9th in the nation, with women making up 42% of the state legislature.  Washington is also one of only four states that utilizes a top-two primary system for candidates, a process that can mitigate some of the barriers that women face when running for office. Our Washington state partners will design strategies to empower women who have historically been excluded from the political process and increase the number of diverse women seeking elected office in Washington. Learn more about women’s representation in Washington in our state factsheet.
About this Partner: OneAmerica is the largest immigrant and refugee advocacy organization in Washington State, organizing with and advocating for diverse communities including Latinx, African, and Asian.
New Project this Grant Will Fund: OneAmerica will develop and grow a candidate cohort training program, targeting immigrant women of color candidates for elected office.
About this Partner: Puget Sound Sage charts a path to a living economy in the South Salish Sea and Duwamish River Valley regions by developing community power to influence, lead and govern.
New Project this Grant Will Fund: Puget Sound Sage will offers holistic support for BIPOC women on the path to leadership including candidate training, a six-month leadership fellowship, mentorship, peer support cohorts, and ongoing resources for women once they are elected.
About this Partner: Native Action Network is a Native-led nonprofit organized to promote Native women’s full representation, participation, and leadership in local, state, tribal, and national affairs.
New Project this Grant Will Fund: The Native Action Network will launch a new two-day program for 20 Native women focused on developing the knowledge, skills, and connections necessary to be successful advocates while providing a forum to network.
About this Partner: Fix Democracy First Education Fund focuses on voter education, voter registration, outreach, and expanding civic participation across Washington state and beyond.
New Project this Grant Will Fund: Fix Democracy First Education Fund will launch the Women in Office Now program providing trainings to 50-100 women.
About this Partner: Comunidad Latina de Vashon was founded by Latina women to cultivate youth and adult community leaders to use their strengths to change systemic injustices on Vashon Island.
New Project this Grant Will Fund: Comunidad Latina de Vashon will focus on encouraging Latinas to run for office as their authentic selves, and not change their narrative to conform to the white, patriarchal definition of a political leader.
Michigan – Parity Has Progressed