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.
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
Source: Center for American Women and Politics
There are more than 8,000 elected officials serving at the state level, compared to 535 members of Congress.
Powerful policy decisions happen at the state level and they have cascading influence upward and across our communities.
State legislative campaigns operate on lower budgets — so dollars stretch farther and impact more seats.
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.
Parity takes persistence
Tennessee (Ranked 47)
In 2020, women account for just over 16% of state legislators in Tennessee — half the national average. Unfortunately, this isn't a new trend.
The number of women serving in the Tennessee General Assembly has never surpassed 20%—and the number of women elected actually declined over the past decade. Plus, Tennesseans have yet to elect a woman to the governor’s office.
Parity has progressed
New York (Ranked 16)
Over the course of the last decade, New York has made incremental progress toward parity.
The number of women serving in the state legislature is up from 7% to 34%. That being said, New York remains one of 20 states that has never elected a woman governor.
Parity is possible
nevada (Ranked 1)
Between the two chambers, women account for over 58% of lawmakers in the Nevada Legislature.
Nevada has long been at the forefront in electing women. Two years before women gained the right to vote, the first woman was elected to the Nevada Assembly. And as early as the mid-1990s, 35% of the members of legislature were women.
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.
Developed a comprehensive understanding of the barriers preventing women from achieving political parity.
Built a portfolio of organizations working to elect women and develop strategy for achieving parity.
Invest in three states, with varying levels of representation, to test training and recruitment strategies.
Increase number of targeted states and apply lessons learned from the previous elections to enhance our tactics.
2025 - Beyond
Implement a 50-state strategy for achieving 50% representation by 2050.
Our national partners
We celebrate strategists. Seek disruptors. Cultivate connections.
By partnering with organizations bolstering change where it matters, we're making strides with lasting power.
Our two anchor organizations received three-year, $500,000 annual grants and work closely together to elect a truly representative democracy.
New American Leaders empowers first and second generation Americans to run, win, and lead.
New American Leaders is the only national, nonpartisan organization focused on bringing New Americans into the political process. They accomplish these goals by:
Training and inspiring immigrant leaders to run for office.
Building coalitions among New American elected leaders.
Researching solutions to create a more diverse corps of leaders.
New American Leaders believes that when our elected officials mirror the makeup of our nation, we achieve stronger communities, a more responsive government, and a robust democracy.
by the numbers:
Over 1,110 trained
127 NAL alums elected
65 served as campaign leaders
61% average win rate of alums between 2016-2019
Vote Run Lead trains barrier-breaking women to unleash their political power, run for office, and transform American democracy.
Vote Run Lead believes there's an urgent need for an intersectional wave of women to lead within our democracy. So they're championing women ready to fight for democracy by tackling system reforms with bold ideas.
Vote Run Lead's award-winning Run As You Are curriculum guides women through a process of radical self-inquiry, wherein their backgrounds, experiences, and values become their authentic platform. Trainees emerge as grounded, effective, collaborative leaders for their communities and, with hundreds of thousands of elected offices in the US, there is a place for every woman to take the lead.
by the numbers:
400% growth since 2015
60% of participants are women of color
20% of participants hail from rural America
Largest single day of training reached 3,000 women in 20 cities and online
WOMEN'S PUBLIC LEADERSHIP NETWORK
Women's Public Leadership Network provides center- and right-leaning women with the knowledge and resources to make seeking public office and engaging in the political process more accessible.
Our state partners
Our state partners work collaboratively to increase the number of women serving in state legislatures. Activities include coalition building, barrier reduction, candidate recruitment and training, and message development on the importance of women leaders.
MISSISSIPPI BLACK WOMEN'S ROUNDTABLE
The Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable is an intergenerational, civic engagement statewide network of black women and girls that focus on increasing voter participation, civic engagement and champions equitable public policy on behalf of Black women and girls in Mississippi. MS BWR is an affiliate of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation/Black Women’s Roundtable.
MISSISSIPPI UNIVERSITY FOR WOMEN
Mississippi University for Women’s NEW Leadership Mississippi educates college women about the important role that politics plays in their lives and encourages them to become effective leaders in the political arena.
WOMEN'S FOUNDATION OF MISSISSIPPI
The Women’s Foundation of Mississippi is a public foundation that works to eliminate the social and economic barriers faced by women and girls throughout the state.
ACLU OF MISSISSIPPI
The Mississippi affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union dedicates their time and resources to promoting and defending the civil liberties of citizens across the state through legislation, litigation, and advocacy.
ADVANCE NATIVE POLITICAL LEADERSHIP
ANPL aims to increase the representation of Indigenous people, especially Indigenous women, in elected office at all levels and create pathways to leadership for emerging Native candidates across the country.
ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN INSTITUTE FOR CONGRESSIONAL STUDIES
APAICS is dedicated to promoting Asian Pacific American participation and representation at all levels of the political process, from community service to elected office.
HIGHER HEIGHTS LEADERSHIP FUND
Higher Heights Leadership Fund is investing in a long-term strategy to expand and support Black women's leadership pipeline at all levels and strengthen their civic participation beyond just Election Day.
LatinasRepresent is an initiative to increase Latina participation throughout the civic engagement continuum, inspire more Latinas to seek public service opportunities, and create a more reflective democracy.
OneAmerica is the largest immigrant and refugee advocacy organization in Washington State, organizing with and advocating for diverse communities including Latinx, African, and Asian.
NATIVE ACTION NETWORK
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.
FIX DEMOCRACY FIRST EDUCATION FUND
Fix Democracy First Education Fund focuses on voter education, voter registration, outreach, and expanding civic participation across Washington state and beyond.
COMUNIDAD LATINA DE VASHON
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