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  • Writer's pictureThe Ascend Fund

Washington - Parity Is Possible

The Ascend Fund is a collaborative fund dedicated to accelerating the pace of change toward gender parity in U.S. politics. As part of our "Start with the States” strategy, we’re investing in three pilot states – Washington, Michigan, and Mississippi. By testing strategies in these very different states The Ascend Fund will gain valuable insight before expanding to all 50 states. Learn more about this project and the RFP process for this round of funding.

For more than a decade, from 1993 to 2004, Washington ranked 1st in the nation for women’s representation in the state legislature. This created a leadership pathway for many women, including current U.S. Senator, Maria Cantwell, who started her political career in the Washington State House of Representatives, serving from 1986-1993. But progress faltered from a high of more than 40% in 2000 to just 32% in 2011. [1]

Percentage Women in the Washington State Legislature

Data: Center for American Women in Politics

Over the last decade, women’s representation has again begun to increase in Washington, and today a record number of women serve in the state legislature. The state currently ranks 9th in the nation for women’s representation. Nineteen women—14 Democrats and five Republicansserve in the Washington State Senate, accounting for 39% of members. The numbers are slightly better in the Washington State House of Representatives where 42 women, including 33 Democrats and nine Republicans, hold 43% of the seats. [2]

Data: Center for American Women in Politics

The Path to Parity in Washington

Washington is an interesting case study for women’s representation because it illustrates the challenge of both attaining gender parity and sustaining forward progress. If every decade the state makes headway in the number of women elected, only to lose it in the next decade, it could take another generation, until 2084, for women to reach political parity.

Percentage Women in the Washington State Legislature

Data: Center for American Women in Politics

Data: Center for American Women in Politics

We don’t believe women in Washington should have to wait another 60 years for equal political representation. To reach gender parity in the Washington Legislature, we need to elect an additional 13 women, while also sustaining progress made to date.


“I’ve always walked into a room as the only woman, and I really had hoped that for my daughters it would be a totally different world today. And in some ways I’m really excited for them, but in some ways I’m very frustrated because we continue to have to fight the fight sometimes to get representation in certain areas, and it shouldn’t be like that.” [3]

- State Senator & Deputy Leader Sharon Brown (R-Kennewick)


To increase the number of women running and winning, The Ascend Fund will invest an initial $180,000 in nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations in Washington State. We will build broad, creative coalitions of organizations that support gender and racial equity and share our commitment to electing women from underrepresented and marginalized communities. And we will work with our state partners to identify common barriers to elected office that are unique to the political environment in Washington and design strategies to remove, reduce, or circumvent them, allowing more women to run.

Our partners will also analyze legislative districts and identify legislative seats with the greatest opportunity, and then leverage the coalition members’ grassroots networks to recruit diverse candidates on both sides of the aisle. To increase the likelihood that women win, the coalition will provide candidates with the training, tools, resources, and support to successfully run for office.

Why States & Why Women

A lot of attention is paid to the 535 members of Congress who represent Americans in Washington, D.C., and Washington is one of only six states with a majority-women delegation, with women holding eight of the 12 seats. But given the partisan gridlock plaguing politics in our nation’s capital, critical policy decisions are increasingly made by the 147 members of the Washington Legislature. The bills passed at the state level have a cascading influence across our communities and government, directly impacting the everyday lives of constituents in both positive and negative ways.


In 2020, Rep. Melanie Morgan sponsored The CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act. The bill, which became law, prohibits discrimination based on hair style, include afros, braids, and dreadlocks, an issue faced by many Black women in the workplace.

“Black women should not be barred from success because of the way we wear our hair. The way we choose to style our hair is culturally meaningful, and it has no impact on our abilities to show up professionally, hygienically, and naturally at work and school. We are sending a message to our children, ‘You are beautiful just the way you are.’” [4]

- State Representative Melanie Morgan (D-Parkland)


Electing more women and ensuring the composition of the Washington Legislature reflects the state’s diverse population isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s what’s good for democracy. [5] When elected, women are more effective lawmakers, working not just harder, but also more collaboratively than their male peers. [6] Not only do women introduce and pass more bills, but they also prioritize legislation that benefits women, children, and families. [7] Women are also more likely to co-sponsor bills with other woman and reach across the aisle to find a bipartisan compromise. The bottom line: the more women in office, the more that gets accomplished. [8]

The lessons we learn in Washington, and our two other pilot states—Michigan and Mississippi—will be invaluable as we expand to more states in future years, with a goal of achieving 50% representation in all 50 states by 2050. We will test out various strategies based on the unique political environment of each state.

Washington for example, is one of only four states that utilizes a top-two primary system for candidates, a process that research indicates can positively effect women’s representation by decreasing the power of political gatekeepers and increasing the viability of moderate and/or third-party candidates.


It’s been 100 years since the first women were elected to the Washington Legislature in 1912, just two years after women in the state won the right to vote. After more than a century, we believe it’s time for women to be equally represented in the state legislature. This transformational investment in Washington will begin to accelerate the rate of change toward gender parity so a truly representative democracy is realized within 10 years, not another 100.

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

[1] Center for American Women and Politics (2021). State Fact Sheet – Washington.

[2] Center for American Women and Politics (2021). State Fact Sheet – Washington. [3] O’Sullivan, J. Washington’s Legislature this year looks more like the people it serves. (2019, Jan. 15). Seattle Times.

[5] Moscatello. (2019). Vote for the Woman Because She’s a Woman. Time. [6] 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. [7] 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. [8] 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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