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  • Writer's pictureThe Ascend Fund

Path to Parity: Why We're Starting with the States

Photo: Flickr

Women are more than half the population, but you wouldn’t know it by walking the halls of state capitols. Across the country, only one-third of state legislators are women, and less than 10% are women of color.

Current Women's Representation in State Legislatures

Data: Center for American Women in Politics

We know that when women lead, our nation is transformed. And yet, at the current rate of change, it could take women more than 100 years to reach political parity in the U.S. The Ascend Fund has a plan to close to the gender gap in state legislatures by 2050, not merely because it’s fair, but because it’s what’s smart.

Why States?

A lot of attention is paid to the 535 members of Congress who represent us in Washington, D.C. But given the partisan gridlock plaguing politics in our nation’s capital, our impact will be greater if we start with the states. Critical policy decisions are increasingly made by the 7,383 state legislators across the country. The bills passed at the state level also have a cascading influence across our communities and government, directly impacting the everyday lives of constituents in both positive and negative ways.

Why Women?

Electing more women to state legislatures isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s what’s good for democracy.[1] Research has shown that women are demonstrably more effective lawmakers, working not just harder but also more collaboratively than their male peers. [2] Not only do women introduce and pass more bills, they also prioritize legislation that benefits women, children, and families. [3] Women are also more likely to co-sponsor bills with other women and reach across the aisle to find a bipartisan compromise. The bottom line: the more women in office, the more that gets accomplished. [4]

Path to Parity

With this in mind, we’re launching a three-state pilot to elect more women to state legislatures, starting in Washington, Michigan, and Mississippi. Based on extensive research and data analysis, we intentionally selected three states at different points on the path to parity. At 42% Washington is approaching parity, Michigan is making progress at 36%, and while parity will take persistence in Mississippi, at 16%, it is still possible if we get to work. There is a lot of work to be done.

Washington – Parity is Possible

Michigan – Parity has Progressed

Mississippi – Parity Takes Persistence

Data: Center for American Women in Politics

To best inform this work in the rest of the country, it was also important to us to choose states that are geographically, demographically, and politically diverse – Washington is blue, Michigan is purple, and Mississippi is red. Additionally, these states have unique features that potentially effect women’s ability to get elected in both positive and negative ways. For example, Washington has a top-two primary system, while legislators in Michigan are term-limited, and Mississippi has no campaign finance limits.

By selecting one state that is approaching gender parity (>40%), one state that is mid-range (30-40%), and one state with a very low rate of representation (<20%), we will be able to identify barriers and test strategies in a variety of different political environments. This will provide invaluable learnings for our work moving forward as we expand to more states in future years, with an ultimate goal of achieving 50% representation in all 50 states by 2050.

Strategic Investment

To reach gender parity in the three targeted state legislatures, we need to elect an additional 93 women, while also sustaining progress made to date. In order to increase the number of women running and winning, we will invest over half-a-million dollars in state-based organizations in Washington, Michigan, and Mississippi over the next two years.

Data: Center for American Women in Politics

We will work with in-state partners to build broad, community-based coalitions of organizations that support gender and racial equity. Our 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 them, 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.


More than 125 years after the first women were elected to state legislatures, it is time for women to be equally represented at all levels of government, not only because it is right, but because it’s what’s good for our democracy. This transformational investment in Washington, Michigan, and Mississippi will begin to accelerate the rate of change toward gender parity so a truly representative democracy is realized within 30 years, not another 100.

To learn more about our efforts or to apply for funding, visit

[1] Moscatello. (2019). Vote for the Woman Because She’s a Woman. Time. [2] Miller. (2016, Nov. 10). Women Actually Do Govern Differently. New York Times. Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt. (2001). The Leadership Styles of Women and Men. Journal of Social Issues. [3] National Women’s Law Center. (2020). Women’s Political Representation and Legislative Achievements: How Women Are Changing State Legislatures. Volden, Wiseman, & Wittmer. (2018). Women’s Issues & Their Fate in the U.S. Congress. Political Science Research & Methods. [4] Eagle & Johnson. (1990). Gender and Leadership Style: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Anzia & Berry. (2011). The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen? American Journal of Political Science.


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