Increasing the Participation of Women in Elected Office

Guest Post by Jarinete Santos, Political Pipeline Director, She Should Run

In the United States today, we are collectively reckoning with the reality that so many of the norms and systems we relied on in our pre-pandemic status quo – from healthcare, to public safety and law enforcement, to ways of working and schooling and caretaking – are not sustainable, safe, or effective. 

Our current government is no exception. Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, it is easy to see that, from local office all the way up to the federal level, women are severely underrepresented. While women make up 51% of the population, women as a whole hold only 21% of elected office. Women of color hold only 9% of Congressional seats, 4.5% of state executive offices, and 7.4% of state legislative seats. Why should we be concerned? According to the World Economic Forum, “gender parity has a fundamental bearing on whether or not economies and societies thrive.” And in the era of coronavirus, we also know that not having strong and steady political representation by women can be a matter of life or death.

As the Political Pipeline Director here at She Should Run, I’ve been on the frontlines in response to this crisis of leadership. Americans deserve a representative government that reflects its people, and that requires more women in office. Women have already proven a propensity for political engagement and desire for greater representation. In fact, women vote at higher rates than men and are giving more than ever to campaigns.

Yet, women are still not running for office at the same rate as men. Women represent less than a third of the total candidates on the ballot in 2020. But thanks to the commitment and support of funders like the Crimsonbridge Foundation, who care about seeing more women in elected office, that can change. I’ve seen first-hand how, with the right resources and the right team, women will see possibilities for their political leadership. 

The first weeks of quarantine in early March coincided with the launch of She Should Run’s Winter Virtual Cohort. Funding from the Crimsonbridge Foundation empowered our programs team to create an engaging and supportive environment under difficult circumstances in which a circle of women engaged weekly in virtual educational and mentoring sessions that have helped them build their confidence around identifying a personal path towards a future run for elected office. You can read more from two Virtual Cohort alumni, Jessica Ann and Yelena, on the She Should Run blog.

We also witnessed a remarkable 99% growth rate in the She Should Run Community, 22,000+ women strong, in the first six months after the country went on lockdown. Social movements like critical mass mobilization against police violence have also motivated women to step up and explore their political potential, even as they face intensifying pressures and vulnerabilities. In the words of She Should Run community members:  

I am a nurse and Covid has shown a glaring spotlight on the desperate need for reform of our healthcare system. I don’t know where to begin, but I am ready to take that step. 

Heather

Police brutality in our city needs to stop. Elected officials need to hold officers accountable. Enough is enough. There aren’t enough qualified individuals in office to represent the interests of the people. I want to understand what it would take to get involved and start making a difference in the community. 

Olympia

Programs like She Should Run’s Virtual Cohort and our Community’s educational offerings are powerful and essential antidotes to the explicit and implicit messages that women get every day that they are not qualified or capable of running for office. Our methods for shifting mindsets and motivating women from all experiences, political leanings, income and education levels, and races and ethnicities to run for office have quantifiable impact.  In fact, 100% of Virtual Cohort participants reported feeling very likely or likely to run for office as a result of participating in the program. 

But if we are to support significant representation of women in public office, it will take an entire engaged and resourced ecosystem to build the strong infrastructure and national movement that underpins a robust, diverse leadership pipeline. 

With only 1.6% of all philanthropist resources going towards causes that support women and girls expressly, it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. But I am heartened by the vast number of people who have already stepped up for our crucial cause. I invite you to join the nearly 4,000 people who have already taken our Role Call quiz, a tool and initiative we launched last year to provide supporters with solutions tailored to their personal strengths on how they can be most effective in combating gender inequality.  Every individual and institution has a role to play in ensuring a healthy democracy, and I’m eager to help you find yours. 

I also invite you to connect with us directly to learn more about what we have planned for post-election programming focused on mobilizing every woman making a difference in her community to consider her political potential. As we say here at She Should Run, “if you care, you’re qualified.” With champions and investors like the Crimsonbridge Foundation in our corner, we can unlock the true power and influence of every woman’s voice, including our own. 


Jarinete Santos is the Political Pipeline Director at She Should Run, where she oversees programs that reach thousands of women to improve their leadership potential and inspire them to run for office. She is passionate about normalizing female leadership for the present and for the rising generation. Before She Should Run, Jarinete led management and facilitation at the Partnership for Public Service for programs targeted at improving the leadership capabilities of the federal workforce, expressly within the IT sector. Jarinete has nearly a decade of rich and varied experience in community engagement, diversity and inclusion training, working on Capitol Hill, and curriculum development as an adjunct instructor in International Relations. Jarinete Santos holds a BS in Political Science from Brigham Young University-Idaho and received her MPA from George Mason University.