OUR WORK

Our approach is simple – establish a pathway, bridge the gap, and transform the system.  

Red brick pathway through grass.

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establish PATHWAYs

Establish pathways for more women to see themselves as candidates and normalize women's leadership.

BRIDGE THE GAP

Bridge the gap by providing women with the tools, training, and resources to successfully run for office.

Woman's feet on a circle on the sidewalk.

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Blue butterfly spreading its wings on a green leaf.

03

transform the system

Transform the system by dismantling roadblocks so elected officials reflect the diversity of the population.

 
 

Our Strategy: Start with the states

Critical policy decisions are made in state legislatures, yet in 40 states, women hold less than 40% of the seats. Only one state, Nevada, has achieved gender parity. Our goal: 50% representation for women in all 50 states by 2050. 

 

The Ascend Fund works with organizations to improve the gender composition of state legislatures. Our national partners work in all 50 states and we recently launched a three-state pilot in Michigan, Mississippi, and Washington. By investing in state legislatures, we’re investing in a critical pipeline to propel women to parity in all levels of government. 

Percentage of Women in State Legislatures

2021 Map of Representation.jpg

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

A goverment building.

Vast Potential

There are more than 8,000 elected officials serving at the state level, compared to 535 members of Congress.

Arrow pointing up.

critical ground

Powerful policy decisions happen at the state level and they have cascading influence upward and across our communities. 

Dollar sign

compounding effect

State legislative campaigns operate on lower budgets — so dollars stretch farther and impact more seats.

the momentum

By looking at three states at various points of progress, we begin to see the path forward. And, we are able to identify where there is still a lot of work to be done.

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Parity takes persistence

Mississippi (Ranked 49) 

Women account for just 16% of state legislators in Mississippi – half the national average. Unfortunately, this isn’t a new trend.

The number of women serving in the Mississippi State Legislature has never surpassed 20%—and the number of women elected actually declined over the past decade. Additionally, the state has never elected a woman governor and only one woman has represented the state in Congress.

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Parity has progressed

Michigan (Ranked 15) 

Propelled by the largest voter turnout in 50 years, women’s representation in the Michigan State Legislature skyrocketed from 25% to almost 36%, as a result of the 2018 election.

But progress stalled in the 2020 election and progress toward parity is further complicated by legislative term limits.

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Parity is possible

Washington (Ranked 10) 

For more than a decade, from 1993 to 2004, Washington’s State Legislature ranked 1st in the nation for women’s representation.

But progress faltered from a high of more than 40% in 2000 to just 32% in 2011. Women now make up 42% of the state legislature and we plan to reach parity within the decade.

Our Timeline

The Ascend Fund formally launched in January 2020 with initial seed funding from Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company founded by Melinda French Gates. We’re scaling rapidly over the next five years to hit our ambitious goal of parity in all 50 states by 2050.  

PHASE 1: 

2018-2019

LEARN &

EXPLORE

Developed a comprehensive understanding of the barriers preventing women from achieving political parity. 

PHASE 2: 

2020

INVEST &

DESIGN

Built a portfolio of organizations working to elect women and develop strategy for achieving parity. 

PHASE 3: 

2021-2022

IMPLEMENT &

EXPERIMENT

Invest in three states, with varying levels of representation, to test training and recruitment strategies.

PHASE 4: 

2023-2024

REFINE &

EXPAND

Increase number of targeted states and apply lessons learned from the previous elections to enhance our tactics.  

PHASE 5: 

2025 - Beyond

IMPACT &

EXPAND

Implement a 50-state strategy for achieving 50% representation by 2050.