Chapter 5 of 5

Chapter 5: Social/Political Barriers and Opportunities

Social/political realities resulting from cultural evolution, critical moments in U.S. politics, and the expansion of women’s political leadership have offered opportunities for women’s political empowerment, while persistent sexism, racism, and heightened toxicity both inside and outside of political institutions present distinct hurdles to women in politics.

Oklahoma Story

Oklahoma has ranked in the bottom ten states for women’s state legislative representation since 1985. As of November 2023, the state ranks 44th in the nation for the percentage of women in its state legislature, with women holding 19.5% of all seats. It ranks 42nd in the nation for the percentage of women in municipal office and has just one woman in its seven-member congressional delegation. Among other factors, both Democrats and Republicans we interviewed referenced the strength of religion in Oklahoma – particularly its location in the “Bible Belt” – as contributing to gender disparities in representation, citing the relationship between religion and perceptions of appropriate gender roles that deter women’s leadership.

Oklahoma has ranked in the bottom ten states for women’s state legislative representation since 1985. As of November 2023, the state ranks 44th in the nation for the percentage of women in its state legislature, with women holding 19.5% of all seats. It ranks 42nd in the nation for the percentage of women in municipal office and has just one woman in its seven-member congressional delegation. Among other factors, both Democrats and Republicans we interviewed referenced the strength of religion in Oklahoma – particularly its location in the “Bible Belt” – as contributing to gender disparities in representation, citing the relationship between religion and perceptions of appropriate gender roles that deter women’s leadership.

While falling behind most other states in women’s political representation across levels of office, Oklahoma did see gains for women – consistent with the rest of the country – as a result of the 2018 election. That year, Kendra Horn (D-OK) was elected to become the first woman to represent Oklahoma in Congress since 2011. And from Election Day 2018 to early 2019, the percentage of women state legislators increased by 8.7 percentage points; 19 (10D, 9R) new women were elected to the legislature, more than the total number of non-incumbent women legislative winners from 2010-2016 combined. Notably, Oklahoma was one of a smaller number of states who saw state legislative gains for women in both the Democratic and Republican parties in the 2018 election.

When we asked Oklahoma political insiders what contributed to gains for women in politics between 2010 and 2022, many of them referenced education-focused mobilizations over the course of the previous decade. In particular, teachers across the state staged the first walkout since 1990 from April 2 to April 12, 2018 in opposition to ongoing cuts in education funding and in support of raising teacher pay. In that same year, over 60 Oklahoma educators ran for state legislative office. And while the majority were unsuccessful, 8 (5D, 3R) of the 19 (10D, 9R) non-incumbent women winners of state legislative seats were former or current educators or education administrators.

The role of activism and organized movements in building political power is evident in Oklahoma’s recent history, and it reflects multiple tenets of mobilizing effects. The state’s teachers’ union, which played a key role in the spring 2018 mobilization, provided some resources and hosted forums for their member candidates. In addition, many years of declining education funding had widespread effects and fostered a sense of urgency among teachers and voters alike. And finally, the activism among teachers to push for greater education investment put them in direct contact with elected officials. As Minority Leader Cyndi Munson (D-OK) told us of women activists, including teachers, “They came into the building and they saw, ‘Okay, what’s he doing? I can do that. I can do it better.’” She added, “I think that direct contact helped a lot in these recent years where we had quite a few gains…for women running for office.”

But winning elective office comes with both opportunities and challenges. Especially in a supermajority institution like the Oklahoma legislature, the power of minority-party members to advance policy priorities is severely constrained. As a result, some legislators and advocates alike – particularly Democrats in a Republican-controlled state – question whether holding state legislative office is currently the best path to political influence.

Apart from structural barriers to achieving policy outcomes, women officeholders – including those in the majority party – also confront social and political hurdles to exercising power within Oklahoma’s political institutions. For example, when we interviewed her in February 2022, former Senator AJ Griffin (R) described the state legislature as “still an old boys’ club” where men receive more respect. Illustrating this point, she said, “People in the elevators will still ask the female members who they work for,” adding, “We are not going to change that until we change the diversity [of members] and change the culture.” Other women legislators described being demeaned and mistaken for interns, being subjected to rumors when seen alone with men, and feeling the pressure to adjust their behaviors to align with gender role expectations of their male peers to avoid ostracization.

The underrepresentation of women of color creates distinct conditions that shape both legislator experience and behavior. Of the 29 (15D, 14R) women currently serving in Oklahoma’s state legislature, 2 (2D) are Black, 2 (1D, 1R) are Latina, 3 (3D) are Native American, and 1 (1D) is Asian American. This includes multiple women who identify as more than one race, including them in each community with which they identify. To date, just 18 (14D, 4R) women of color have ever served in the Oklahoma Legislature, illustrating how recent the gains are for women from historically-marginalized racial groups. Asked about how her experience navigating Oklahoma politics may be distinct from others, Minority Leader Cyndi Munson (D) – the first and only Asian American woman to serve in Oklahoma’s legislature, who identifies as both Asian and white – told us, “If you are not someone who does not look like everybody else in the room, you really cannot understand [it],” adding, “You have no idea the barriers, just in my mind, I have to overcome before I step into this [state Capitol] building.” Former Representative Merleyn Bell (D) described how her personal experience as a biracial woman prepared her for navigating identities and expectations in the legislature: “You are three [people all of the time]. You’re the person that people outside the building think you are. You are the person that people inside the building demand that you be. And then [you are] yourself.” She described this type of code-switching, particularly to gender role expectations, as “exhausting.” Likewise, Munson explained how she works to raise issues of race and identity in ways that do not exclude others, noting the sensitivity of some of her white, male peers to doing so. These experiences are not unique to the legislature. Women we interviewed in local and statewide positions also shared stories of navigating misogyny and white fragility while trying to obtain and effectively execute their position as an elected official.

But women leaders also pointed to the benefits of their service, especially the ways in which their leadership might inspire the next generation. As firsts, both Minority Leader Munson (first Asian American woman legislator) and Senator Jessica Garvin (first Latina legislator) described the reactions they get from young women excited to see someone with their shared gender and racial/ethnic identities in positions of power. Oklahoma City Councilmember Nikki Nice (D), the only Black woman on her council, told us, “You are not going to want to be in places that you don’t see representation clearly, and I know me being in this space has opened conversations for other young women that look like me.” In addition to bringing diverse voices to policy debates and agendas, these women join others in local, state, and federal elected and unelected roles who are disrupting expectations of who can and should hold political power in Oklahoma.

Read The Story
  • Gender and Racial Reckonings

    Gender and racial reckonings in the past decade have created both demands and opportunities for increasing women’s political power.

  • Success of Women Political Leaders

    Success of and attention to women political leaders act as inspiration for expanding women’s political representation and contributes to networks of supportive women political leaders. Women celebrate being role models and trailblazers, but also acknowledge the toll it takes to navigate and disrupt white and male-dominated institutions.

  • Gender and Racial Biases within Political Institutions

    Gender and racial biases within formal political institutions shape women’s experiences and create hurdles to recruitment, empowerment, and retention of women leaders.

  • Gender and Racial Beliefs and Biases in Society

    Cultural norms, expectations, and dynamics around gender and race outside of formal political institutions both create and exacerbate social and political hurdles to increasing women’s political power.

  • Women’s Beliefs and Calculations

    Individual-level beliefs and calculations among women – shaped by systems-level structural, social, and political realities outlined in this report – both motivate and deter women from pursuing positions of political power.

  • Prescriptions for Addressing Social/Political Barriers and Opportunities

Gender and Racial Reckonings

Gender and racial reckonings in the past decade have created both demands and opportunities for increasing women’s political power.

We asked interview subjects multiple questions that elicited commentary on the role of social movements and activism in shaping women’s political power in their states. In one question, we asked subjects specifically if any mobilizations via activism and/or social movements created greater or fewer opportunities for women to increase their representation in the past decade, and in another we asked interview subjects to comment on the presence and power of women in political activism and advocacy in their state. Across states, they cited the gender and racial reckonings within the past decade – including the Me Too movement, Women’s Marches starting in 2017 and in response to the outcomes of the 2016 election, and racial justice activism from the founding of Black Lives Matter to the mobilizations following the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others – as contributors to gains in Democratic women’s political representation and power. These movements not only activated women directly but also increased demand from voters and pressure on political leaders to address gender and racial inequities in representation and power. Their effects were primarily on Democrats, though some Republican interviewees described recent activism among conservative women – e.g. on school choice and parental rights – as both evidence of and opportunities for increased political influence. Consistent with chapter two, Republicans were more likely to attribute gains in women’s political leadership to broader generational change and cultural progress. Location-based differences in the magnitude of mobilization on these issues – especially related to partisan control at state and local levels – also inform the degree to which they have shaped changes in women’s political representation and power in recent years. Finally, when we asked interview subjects about the opportunity of translating women’s activism into candidacy and officeholding, they shared affirmative examples of building this pipeline while also citing real and distinct challenges for women who navigate the transition from activism to officeholding.

I think over the last five years, [the increase in women’s political representation has] been sort of this movement that was propelled by the Trump effect. But also even before then, just having seen how so much of the organizing happens by women, especially in the spaces I operate in. They are very women-led. It’s no surprise to me that more and more people in elected office are women because they have been the ones doing the work for the last many years. [Interview conducted in January 2022.]”

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood (d-ga)

Executive Director of Asian American Advocacy Fund

When you have issues like Roe v. Wade being decided at the forefront of political discourse right now, and this being a direct attack on women’s bodies, I think it’s those types of issues that are galvanizing women to run. …I always call [Donald Trump] a gift and a curse — [a] curse for obvious reasons [and] a gift because it really woke everyone up to what is at stake and what freedoms we are risking to be lost. And, you know, when women started seeing a lot of decisions that are made in the political space that have a direct impact on their quality of life, I think [that] has woken some women up to where, ‘No, I have to be part of a conversation.’ …So many of our bread and butter issues were being dismantled and I think that has contributed to more women getting into politics and [at] all levels, not just as elected officials but as policymakers, as communication specialists, as fundraisers.”

Morgan Cephas (d-pa)

State Representative

I think the women are, just for lack of a better word, maybe fed-up. And they are going for it. They’re really going for it. They are really putting themselves out there, living and being their authentic selves and just going for it.”

Belinda Harris (np-nv)

Justice of the Peace

I think there has been an awakening of women to say if not now, when? And why not me? …We’ve kind of relinquished the fact that we needed somebody else’s permission to have a seat at the table. …We started to mobilize and more women realized that our representation and the issues that mattered most to us were being controlled by men and particularly white men.”

Kim Schofield (d-ga)

State Representative

And then you got these Gen Xers and Millennial women…they have crowns on their heads and I’m not saying that to be facetious or anything, but they know what their worth is. They are queens. They know for a fact that they have voices and they are letting them come out of their mouths and from deep down in their throats. So I think that’s why we’re seeing more women involved in politics.”

Kitti Asberry (np-ok)

Executive Director of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women

It’s important for our party to broaden our tent. …I mean everybody, even the men in our party – the old men that have been there – realize that we’ve got to change things to have more minorities and women. So now is a perfect time for women who feel like they are called or feel like they want to run [for office]. It is a good time to do that.”

Ginger Howard (r-ga)

Republican National Committeewoman

I think [the increase in women’s political representation] has been strategic and by design to some extent. [Among] people who are looking at the polling and seeing who’s coming out to vote and what kind of candidates and stories do we need to win, I think there’s been some deliberate, intentional work done there to try to find women and diverse candidates to run in certain races.”

Becky Carroll (d-il)

Democratic Political Consultant

I think that there’s [a] cultural backlash right now [to] incumbents and old politics. And so the fact that women haven’t been part of that as much has opened the door for…challengers against incumbents, particularly challenges against long-time, white, male incumbents whose old political strategy was just [to] raise all the money and run a mail plan.”

Josina Morita (d-il)

Cook County Commissioner and Former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

I think that, at least what I am seeing here in Chicago, is that people are getting way more organized in order to be able to support candidates that they trust. …And in that work there is an understanding that whoever it is that runs needs to be representative of the communities that we live in.”

Rossana Rodríguez (d-il)

Chicago City Councilmember

I don’t know if it’s an experience that’s unique in western Pennsylvania but…you hear these stories of being a woman candidate and [needing to] be aware of what you’re wearing [and that] people are going to tell you that they don’t think that women should be in elected office. I didn’t run into any of that [in the 2020 election]. What I actually ran into was the opposite. I was knocking on doors and people [were] like, ‘Thank God a woman is running. We need more women. I’m so excited to support you.’”

Emily Kinkead (d-pa)

State Representative

I think for me, coming out of organizing and activism spaces, the current two-party system wasn’t necessarily fitting into my ideology around education, criminal justice reform, gun violence, all the issues. And I think that was the driving force around me deciding to run for office. I feel that when I was approached by the WFP, Working Families Party, to run, [like] most women, [I thought], ‘I’m not a politician.’ …The reason I fight for these things is because I’m an impacted person coming from impacted communities, raising children that will also be impacted young adults, right? And first, I thought [of] the reasons why I thought I shouldn’t run. But then I thought, if not me, then who?”

Kendra Brooks (wfp-pa)

Philadelphia City Councilmember

Women’s activism in Georgia is kicking ass. It’s incredible. Women are out here, especially minority women are out here, killing the game, changing it up, flipping the tables. We’re here [and] we want a seat. …You see with our congresswoman, Nikema Williams, she worked with Planned Parenthood. She was in the legislature. Then she moved from there to the state Senate and now she’s in Congress. And then we have Renitta Shannon. She was an activist because she saw so many injustices. She would join certain groups and do an action with them. So she moved into the state legislature [and] now she’s running for lieutenant governor. So you are seeing that pipeline being built.”

Erica Pines (d-ga)

Democratic Strategist

I think what mostly motivated me to consider [running for office] is just how much I know now about this office. There’s a lot [of information] that has been kept from the grassroots in terms of what this seat is capable of and now that we have that information I think it’s motivating others to consider it. And I should specify, it’s motivating other community leaders who already have decades, sometimes, of experience organizing at a grassroots level to consider coming into these sorts of positions of power.”

Vicko Alvarez (d-il)

Former Chief of Staff to Chicago City Councilmember Rossana Rodríguez

Because of the way the system is, I feel like oftentimes when people want to run for office, they feel like… ‘if I have a political position and I want to push for something, it’s just gonna be me against many and it’s just gonna be hard.’ Or they think ‘I [will] need to change my values or who I am as a person if I become a person in political power.’ …I know some amazing organizers, some Latina women, who say that they will run for office, but they think that they get to do more as community organizers than being in power because they feel like their ability to fight for systemic change in their community and social change in their community [is] going to be limited once they have a political position.”

Daniela Rodriguez (np-ga)

Immigrant Advocate

[In] movement spaces oftentimes the enemy of movement is usually the government. The enemy of movement is that politician who stands in the way of that appropriation that you never seem to get, and you start to see that as your target, your enemies. So the concept of going [into government as an elected official] is very difficult.”

Summer Lee (d-pa)

U.S. Representative

Thinking about yourself as an activist or an advocate and making demands of power, making demands of your government, and then becoming the government, [you have to think about how]…you don’t lose your critique now [that] you’re inside of the system, right? And so…how do you play it? …Depending on the profile of donors, depending on the profile of voters and people who support you, there will be people who are excited about you throwing bombs inside of the House. And there are going to be people who are like, ‘No, we got you elected so you can get stuff done.’ And both of those will be in the ears of your activist candidate, your movement-aligned candidate.”

Nsé Ufot (np-ga)

Former Chief Executive Officer of the New Georgia Project

Success of Women Political Leaders

Success of and attention to women political leaders act as inspiration for expanding women’s political representation and contributes to networks of supportive women political leaders. Women celebrate being role models and trailblazers, but also acknowledge the toll it takes to navigate and disrupt white and male-dominated institutions.

When asked about who or what has contributed to gains in women’s political representation and power in the past decade, interview subjects across states, party, and gender credited women political leaders – both nationally and within their own states – as role models and advocates for women in politics. As noted in chapter three, they described women political leaders as important parts of support infrastructures for women. But more than that, they cited women’s political success and leadership as an opportunity for symbolic disruption of the political status quo, inspiration to younger and more diverse political aspirants, and substantive impacts on both policy outcomes and institutional climates. The women leaders we interviewed also shared their own stories of impact and affinity with communities they represent, offering evidence of the distinct value of representation at diverse intersections of gender and race/ethnicity.

The reality is a legislator has never looked like me. The typical legislator doesn’t generally apply to young, Latina women…that come from working class backgrounds, that are the daughters of immigrants. …That’s not what a legislator has looked like. And so I redefine that experience, I think. With every session, I redefine what it means or what’s acceptable to be a legislator.”

Selena Torres (d-nv)

State Assemblywoman

I think [a contributor to the increase in women’s political representation is] just being aware of the opportunities that are out there and that women can make great legislators. …We have different experiences than men. We have different makeups than men. We come from a different place than men and so I think just being aware of that and promoting it and, like myself, being out there and saying, ‘Look – this was my path. This is how I got here. This is how I decided to run.’ And then you look at somebody’s path and how they decided to run. What led them to that? Sharing the stories, I guess. Let other women know there isn’t just one right way to do it or there’s no right reason or certain background you have to have to run and be a good elected official.”

Melissa Hardy (r-nv)

State Assemblywoman

Women candidates [have] been successful in our mayoral races…so women have seen other women running and being successful and I think that has encouraged them. I’m a big proponent that women have followed this role model [approach] and I think in Georgia we’ve seen that, particularly over this last decade, where women have taken on some leadership roles in the General Assembly.”

Karen Owen (r-ga)

Founder of VoteHer Georgia

I only had a two-week period in which I had to decide if I was going to run because, of course, the incumbent decided at the very last minute that he was retiring. And so it didn’t give me very much lead time to figure all this out. But in that two-week period I had to really think about [it]. ‘Does this even make sense for me to run, like all the logistical things? But also, am I going to get a lot of hatred? Am I going to get a lot of pushback because of who I am? Because of what I look like?’ But at the end of the day, the reason that pushed me was because Stacey Abrams was on the ballot that year. I said, ‘Okay, wow, we have a Black woman running at the top of the ticket. She’s running statewide to be governor of the state. So if she can run and if she can be that bold that she thinks that the voters of Georgia will support her to get there, then I should be able to run at least for my small little district seat.’ …It was so important to have her in that role because…if it wasn’t for her taking that bold step, I don’t think I would have made the decision as I had, regardless of everything else that had been presented to me.”

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood (d-ga)

Executive Director of Asian American Advocacy Fund

I would say just seeing Black women in leadership roles is something that just did not exist when I got into politics. I’m currently number two in the House. I’m speaker pro tem. …The majority leader of the Senate is Kimberly Lightford, an African American woman from Maywood, Illinois. We have an African American lieutenant governor in Juliana Stratton. …So what I would say is that…the added representation matters. A lot of this is really about, do you see people who look like you in positions and roles of authority? And there was a season where that certainly was not the case. That is no longer the case. You see African American women in leadership roles. …I’ve been told by all these women who I did not know before they ran for office…that they looked at how I did it. [Interview conducted in March 2022.]”

Jehan Gordan-Booth (d-il)

State Representative

Today is the Hispanic Cultural Day. I’ve had so many young Hispanic women come up to me and just want to take a picture with me. And I think it’s because they see that women who – I mean, obviously I’m half white and so that makes me look a little different than them – but the fact that I have that cultural background and we share that heritage, I think that it makes them see that women like them can also be successful if they work hard. [Interview conducted in May 2022.]”

Jessica Garvin (r-ok)

State Senator

With the growing Asian American population here [in Georgia]…it has sparked a lot of interest in that community for me to run [for office]. It has also sparked an interest [from] Asian American females that are younger. A lot of the younger generation, a lot of high school students reached out to me when I was running just to say, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t really seen an Asian American female run for office or take that kind of leadership role in my community, and I want to learn more because I want to do this and I want to do that in the future, and how did you get there?’ …It made me realize that we needed this for a long time. …Hopefully I can be the first but of many that are going to come after me. [Interview conducted in February 2022 before Hong was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in November 2022.]”

Soo Hong (r-ga)

State Representative

I had never considered running for office myself, but I was organizing. I was an organizer and I was looking for opportunities and really testing a theory that I really believed that particularly…Black and brown folks, marginalized folks, would be more inclined to vote and to participate in the electoral process if they saw themselves – like their whole selves – reflected in that process, [if] they saw [their] whole selves reflected in candidates who could show up as themselves [and] who were, of course, centering their political needs, centering the unique experiences and perspectives of our communities and campaigns.”

Summer Lee (d-pa)

U.S. Representative

I think that [what] comes with being a woman in leadership is this responsibility of how do we pay it forward for the next generation? I know that I certainly have that sense of ‘What can I do to support other women? How can I uplift women in leadership roles?’ I did it when I was in my previous role and I do it now — that continual work of supporting one another so that we can continue to have women in leadership. [Interview conducted in August 2022 before Burkhead left office.]”

Lisa Cano Burkhead (d-nv)

Former Lieutenant Governor

I think that there’s…definitely [been] a conscious effort put forward [to recruit women candidates] because numbers don’t lie, right? And I think that what happens is, now that we are getting more women in politics and in elected offices, that we are taking that torch and saying, ‘We need to replicate what we’ve done and also be better mentors and mentor the next generation to pass that torch to make sure that we do get more women in office.’”

Lisa Rhodes (d-pa)

Former Senior Advisor to and Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party

Not only did I become the first Latina lieutenant governor in the state of Illinois, but I became the first Latina lieutenant governor nationwide. There was already a male but there was never a female, and so it was a big responsibility.”

Evelyn Sanguinetti (r-il)

Former Lieutenant Governor

It’s so interesting being the first Asian American woman [in the Oklahoma legislature]. …If you are not someone who does not look like everybody else in the room, you really cannot understand. …And it’s not like I walk in [and] I’m like, ‘Oh I’m so lonely.’ It’s just you look around and you’re like, ‘No one looks like me. And no one has to deal with what I deal with, you know.”

Cyndi Munson (d-ok)

State House Minority Leader

I think that’s the one experience that may be different from [my] other colleagues is this burden of being seen as representative of all these voices that are not being heard, but also knowing that you don’t speak for all —like the experiences of Black folks, and Black women, and women, or all these other faces that I represent. …It’s just so challenging to balance that…to say, ‘Hey, we are missing [the] voices of Black women. We’re missing voices of brown and Black communities…and here [are] some of those issues, but it’s not all of those issues, right? …I have that privilege and burden, right? The privilege of being in that space to be able to be a voice but the burden and fear of not representing all the voices.”

Donna Bullock (d-pa)

State Representative

Gender and Racial Biases within Political Institutions

Gender and racial biases within formal political institutions shape women’s experiences and create hurdles to recruitment, empowerment, and retention of women leaders.

We asked interview subjects about the barriers to increasing women’s political representation in their states, the friendliness of political institutions and its effects on the recruitment and retention of women within them, and the specific barriers to and environments navigated by women within different racial/ethnic groups. Moreover, we asked all women we interviewed about their experiences as women, and more specifically as Asian, Black, Latina, Native, and multiracial women, within their states’ political ecosystems. Their responses serve as an important reminder that, despite significant progress, women continue to navigate political institutions (such as state legislatures or local councils) where white and male dominance – historically and at present – influence the allocation and exercise of power, impose assimilation pressures, and create disparate conditions for institutional actors along axes of both gender and race/ethnicity. These realities not only shape women’s political experiences and opportunities to gain and exercise power, but also have significant implications for women’s retention within political institutions as officeholders, staff, or practitioners. Among our interview subjects, both men and women recognized the persistence of sexism and racism within political institutions. Consistent with recent research from Pew and evidence presented in chapter two, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to identify systemic gendered and racialized hurdles to political power. Finally, although key factors like women’s levels of political representation and power, culture, and racial/ethnic diversity vary across our case states, there was no state immune from insider evidence of persistent hurdles to increasing gender and/or racial diversity in political power.

This is a boys’ club. …And listen…my chief of staff is a woman and I see it through her eyes now — of her working inside of this [state Capitol] building in Oklahoma City. …There [are] a lot of women that work in this building, but that doesn’t mean that you still can’t have a boys’ club culture that can be very draining for a female. And I’ve seen it. And I’m much more sensitive to it today because of that.”

Matt Pinnell (r-ok)

Lieutenant Governor

Inside the chamber we’re all very collegial and I think people recognize the power of the people of color and women and our influence and that’s respected. …[But] if you are in one of the committee meetings, like labor or energy or environment – some of those bigger committees – and you’re sitting on one side and looking out into the audience…it’s a sea of male faces. …There’s still a lot of male domination among a certain corps of lobbyists, right? And I see that changing a little bit now, but it’s still kind of a boys’ club among the lobbyists.”

Theresa Mah (d-il)

State Representative

When you walk in a room every morning and every morning you are having breakfast with 50 men, and you’re the only woman sitting there, you know, you’d like to think that gets old and you forget about it. Well, you never forget about it.”

Renee Unterman (r-ga)

Former State Senator

I don’t even remember the event and I do not remember the issue, but there were four or five older white men standing in like a little semicircle. And I was talking to them at this reception and one of them said, ‘What does your husband think about that?’ Out of my mouth came, ‘Well, on this, whatever I tell him to think.’ So the other guys that were standing there started laughing. And then I was golden. But I came home I told my husband and my son who was about I think he was maybe 19 or 20 then, I said, ‘Listen, until Union County gets a little more used to me and [to] having a woman running things, I need for one of you guys to be with me at the event.’…Sometimes women get so caught up in proving their femininity that they forget that it is hard for some, and so bear with them a little bit. It’s a big change for them.”

Terri Bryant (r-il)

State Senator

[As a legislator,] I tried to thread the needle of speaking up just enough but that’s always a balance because, especially with women, I have found…people have a lower threshold for when a woman talks too much. …And so I went in with a mindset of ‘I need to find that balance of speaking up enough so that I am heard. But not too much so that I am written off as somebody who just talks all the time.’”

Emily Virgin (d-ok)

Former State House Minority Leader

I think with my personality that I have been very agreeable, that I don’t wear my ethnicity on my sleeve and constantly talk about [it]. I’m always trying to assimilate and I feel like I was an easy Asian American to digest and hopefully those who come behind me will be a little bit bolder. …I want to be effective and if it makes other people feel uncomfortable, and I do see, especially [with] men, ‘I don’t know what to do with her. She looks different’…I have to make them feel comfortable and make sure that they know that I’m nice and that I’m not going to be the crazy liberal yelling at them. …I want their first impression of an Asian American to be all positive. And so I go out of my way to make sure that it happens. So every interaction is positive and nice, short, sweet and we move on.”

Patty Kim (d-pa)

State Representative

I remember initially being in [the legislative chamber and] someone…pointing out one of my other colleagues who is very passionate in her speech and spoke with that kind of passion and at times raised her voice on the House floor. And a colleague told me, ‘Hey, don’t do that. We like you but we don’t like her because she speaks loudly.’ And what does that mean? Right, so I can’t speak up? I can’t speak loudly or [if I] look like [a] ‘loud, angry Black women’ then I’m unapproachable because I’m speaking from some kind of passion, and so I’m not allowed to do that, right? So I got to be polite and quiet and approachable. And that kind of respectability politics — we got to get beyond [that] and [allow] the loud woman to feel comfortable enough to speak up and speak out…without having the fear of being type-casted as one thing or another. …We need to figure out ways to allow women to not just be in office but to actually exercise that power when they’re there and to [be] respected.”

Donna Bullock (d-pa)

State Representative

I mean it’s been awful and hard [as a woman political consultant in Oklahoma]. …When I was pregnant with Guthrie I had multiple candidates [of] both genders ask me if I was going to be able to handle it. But no one asked my husband that. …And, you know, I’ve been called aggressive and arrogant when my husband is just as confident. I’ve been called a bitch. …You try to not internalize it too much because at the end of the day there’s plenty of women out here supporting the cause too, but, yeah, there’s lots of sexism. And I do think it’s gotten a little bit better, I do, thanks to the representation at the Capitol — the people seeing these awesome women making change up there, right? It [has] just helped in general.”

Cassi Peters (d-ok)

Democratic Political Consultant

My experience being on council as the only woman, I do find it to be difficult and challenging [and], at times, frustrating because there are things that I feel like happen that wouldn’t if I was a man or one of the boys. So I’m definitely cognizant of that and of my gender being on there.”

Jessica Rothchild (d-pa)

Scranton City Councilmember

As the second Black woman to ever serve since our city [was] incorporated in 1890, it has not been easy. It is very difficult. And I feel as if I am not taken seriously because of those things because this work, if you will, is for anybody but myself. …I don’t know if it’s because I’m a younger Black female, because I don’t have children, I’m not married…I don’t check a lot of boxes that people would make it seem as if I am believable or dependable or whatever the case may be, or I’ve had enough life experience to do this work.”

Nikki Nice (d-ok)

Oklahoma City Councilmember

I did have some blatantly sexist things said to me [as a candidate]. …When I ran for my second term…a male legislator said to me, ‘Well, we all know you’re going to win because all you have to do is wear a short skirt and everyone will vote for you.’ …It was just so demeaning.”

Jill Tolles (r-nv)

Former State Assemblywoman

Because of my union, I have been empowered to stand up and speak up and challenge people and I think that if we don’t…if we’re in the rooms and we don’t do that, then who will? So that kind of falls on us. Women of color, we still have to take on that emotional labor and it can be really exhausting and come with some personal risk…[because] you’re putting your reputation on the line. You challenge authority. There [are] a lot of things to navigate when you think about intersectionalities. …Because of my union — we do have more ownership, more power, more authority, and are seen as experts. And so we take the responsibility seriously.”

Bethany Khan (d-nv)

Spokeswoman at the Culinary Union

I never knew how much of a minority I was until I got to Harrisburg. It just becomes very obvious that most people [in the state Capitol] are not people of color and certainly most are not women at all from [when] I was a staff member in the Senate to this point today. [Interview conducted in August 2022 before McClinton became Speaker of the Pennsylvania House.]”

Joanna McClinton (d-pa)

Speaker of the State House

It can be very stressful having to explain our lived experience to those that haven’t walked in our shoes or, in some counties in PA, might have less than 1% of a Black female population. …Sometimes it’s difficult to have to navigate those issues. But I mean, again, you are just reminded that with this seat of power that you’re in, you have a big responsibility to deliver for the communities that you represent.”

Morgan Cephas (d-pa)

State Representative

[My experience as a Black woman in Oklahoma politics is different from others because of] the white fragility of conversations that I have to have because I’m seen as an angry Black woman. I’m seen as an aggressive Black woman. I’m seen as all of these things when I’m just trying to get some work done for the people that I’m serving. So I call it being assertive in response to that. But at the same time, unfortunately because my community’s experiences are different from our other council members, they don’t see the lens. And they believe that I’m just going to talk about Black issues. And technically, yes, I am because the majority of the people that I serve are [Black].”

Nikki Nice (d-ok)

Oklahoma City Councilmember

I was the first woman majority whip in the House. And guess what? Some guy said, ‘I just got elected to this new position they created for me, vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, and I’m going to be in that office, not Orrock. That’s going to be my office.’ …I realized oh no they fully intend to do this. Nobody’s going to stick up for me. That speaker is not going to stick up for me against his buddy who’s pitching a fit that he’s going to be in that office. So I got my girlfriends and we went down on the weekend and moved my stuff into the office. …It took that for me to be able to be in the majority whip’s office…sitting right beside the majority leader. …I had to look out for my damn self.”

Nan Orrock (d-ga)

State Senator

Unfortunately, women in politics are always in a constant battle against those stereotypes. Far too often women with opinions and suggestions in the political world are labeled as too emotional or a creator of problems. I have sat in meetings where someone has had the same idea or recommendation that I’ve previously had ignored or discredited viewed and handled in a much more reciprocal manner. [Interview conducted in May 2022.]”

Sue Rezin (r-il)

State Senator

There’s just blatant misogyny and people speaking over you where people [are] attributing things that you said to somebody else after that man repeated it. Like those are the things that we all know happen. It’s just different when it happens at a city council level. It’s one thing for me to be hanging out at a bar and if a guy talks over me, it’s another thing. When something that Rosanna [Rodríguez] said got directly attributed to another city councilperson and now that councilperson gets the credit, that’s not right. …Those sorts of behaviors become higher stakes when you are in a higher-stakes position.”

Vicko Alvarez (d-il)

Former Chief of Staff to Chicago City Councilmember Rossana Rodríguez

Symbolic annihilation — that is what they do to us. As women, as minorities, as Latinas [and] women of color in public spaces where we are not supposed to be. I am the DA. I am the number one law enforcement officer in my circuit. I walk into a room with my counterparts of law enforcement. I am the only female head. And guess what? They’re white. They’re Black. I’m the only Latina. …I embody this. I am the symbol. It’s not about me, Deborah. That’s right. It’s about there is somebody there who should not be there challenging the status quo. …So when I heard that phrase, ‘symbolic annihilation,’ it puts so much in perspective to me about what I’m experiencing. Because if I was to quit, that’s not enough for them. They don’t want me just to go away. They want to destroy me because of what I symbolize to people in my community. …It’s saying, ‘Look what we did to her. We’re gonna do the same to you.’ …To me, that phrase explains so much about the struggle when you are changing systems, when you are challenging the status quo. It’s not about you as that person, it is about what you symbolize and that needs to be destroyed.”

Deborah Gonzalez (d-ga)

District Attorney of the Western Judicial Circuit District and Former State Representative

It’s not that these men hate women. It’s that they hate these women that are trying to be in charge of things.”

Andrea Benjamin (d-ok)

Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma and Board President of Sally’s List

The level of sexual harassment that I have endured inside of city council is just out of this world. …I would say that there [is] this sort of exoticization, I guess. Like I’m an exotic animal because there [are] not a lot of people like me. …I come in [to a luncheon to welcome new council members] and two colleagues are standing there who I have never met in my whole life. And one of them tells me, ‘Oh, hi. Congratulations on your win. Finally we get somebody pretty to look at.’ …The other colleague, the other council member that was with [him], laughed because he thought it was hilarious. … And you’re like, ‘Oh my God. Where am I? What did I do? These are people I’m going to work with.’ I remember feeling very anxious at that moment.”

Rossana Rodríguez (d-il)

Chicago City Councilmember

After an instance where a gentleman in this world had essentially suggested that if I wanted to move up [in politics] I would sleep with him…I remember telling my mom about it…and she told my dad. I found out later. …The powerlessness still very much exists and I don’t know what winning looks like in that situation, right? And I think my parents – they are definitely concerned that something might happen one day or that I’ll be put in a bad situation. …I share the concern enough, but I also recognize that I’m careful and there [are] reasons why I’m careful. But I shouldn’t have to be, right? I shouldn’t wonder if that meeting with the lobbyist after work is really just a meeting or if they are trying to make a pass. I shouldn’t have to worry whether or not I’m allowed to go to this place or somebody is going to make an inappropriate advance on me.”

Selena Torres (d-nv)

State Assemblywoman

I think the Me Too movement helped us kind of lay down the laws on [sexual harassment in the state legislature] and say, ‘You know what? No more. It’s not going to happen, and if it does you are going to be held accountable.’ …I think it’s made [the state legislature] a better place and I think that…the more women that you have there, the less the chances are going to be that there’s going to be sexual harassment from men to women. But I also think that those things aren’t going to change as much as they should change until women are not just respected as equal partners, but [also valued] for their leadership abilities and when they are in real leadership positions.”

Melinda Bush (d-il)

Former State Senator and Founder of Lake County Democratic Women

My feeling is that [the culture in the state Capitol has] gotten better mostly because there are more women in leadership. …They have cleaned house a little bit. I think that [political leaders], and I think from a purely political standpoint, there was a phase where they realized that these guys [engaged in sexual harassment and abuse] were a liability and so they were like, ‘Let’s clear them out before we lose the seats.’”

Anne Wakabayashi (d-pa)

Democratic Political Consultant and Former Executive Director of Emerge Pennsylvania

I think that there’s a little bit more hesitance, right, in terms of maybe doing something inappropriate. I don’t think that [new rules on sexual harassment have] completely changed the culture and, all of a sudden, people are so respectful. But I think it did put people on notice that [harassment] was a real thing, that you will be held accountable to your actions and it’s not how it used to be or [will] just get swept under the rug and then that’s it. I’m not saying that every instance gets brought out. [That’s] certainly not the case in Georgia. But I think…it did strike a little bit of fear in the people who are doing the wrong stuff.”

Falak Sabbak (d-ga)

Former Executive Director of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus

Gender and Racial Beliefs and Biases in Society

Cultural norms, expectations, and dynamics around gender and race outside of formal political institutions both create and exacerbate social and political hurdles to increasing women’s political power.

Outside of but contributing to the dynamics within formal political institutions, interview subjects described state- and local-level cultural norms, expectations, and beliefs as creating hurdles to increasing women’s political power. Across parties and states, they cited their perceptions of and/or experiences of gender, racial, and intersectional biases among voters, even while recognizing the decline in these biases over time. Variance on these dynamics across states is related to political ideology, racial/ethnic diversity, and the influence of religion. And within states, differences in cultural norms, racial/ethnic diversity, and political ideology between rural and urban areas are important to understanding site-based variance in opportunities for women’s political advancement. 

I think that there is so much systemic misogyny in a state like Georgia, and it’s almost cloaked in civility but it’s still misogynistic. And that permeates southern culture. This old school misogyny…I think that is a barrier to Republican and Democratic women, and at every level. …They don’t see them as deserving a place at the table.”

Melita Easters (d-ga)

Executive Director of Georgia WIN List

It’s hard for a woman of color to run [for office] because not only are you going to be targeted for being a woman, but you are also [targeted for] being a minority. And then whatever preconceptions people have about whatever race/ethnicity you are most likely is going to come out. …There were times where I was doing call time and I would say my name was Shavonnia [and] I’m running for U.S. Congress. And once my name would come out there were people who would say, ‘That sounds like an ‘n’ word name.’ And I would say, ‘Well I am Black if that’s what you’re saying.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, I’m not sure if I can support you.’ …These are things that I would say maybe are a little more unique to my area because I don’t look like my area. If I was running maybe in a larger, populist city maybe that would not have happened.”

Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson (d-pa)

Former Political Director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and Former Congressional Candidate

I was very cognizant of the realities when I first got elected. I knew based on my experience on the campaign trail…that it took a little bit longer for people to take me seriously and to give me the credit that they might automatically give to an older person or a man in my position. …The campaign trail kind of set me up for this mindset that I knew that I was going to have to work harder to be taken seriously. And I think that my physical appearance definitely had a hindrance on that because I was 24 by the time I got elected but I’ve always looked younger than I actually am. …So I made sure to be very prepared for committee meetings, for floor hearings.”

Emily Virgin (d-ok)

Former State House Minority Leader

You literally have to say, ‘Look at me, look at me, look at what I did.’ You have to do that all the time, and probably more as a Black woman than others, because we just have to constantly prove ourselves.”

Marci Collier Overstreet (np-ga)

Atlanta City Councilmember

I think sometimes, too, as a Black woman or as a Native woman, thinking about going into rural spaces…it does give you pause because you don’t know…if you will be welcomed or what type of response people will have, whether they think that you don’t belong, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you don’t have the education or skills or whatever the case may be.”

Shalondra Harrison (d-ok)

Executive Director of Sally’s List and former Democratic Committeeperson

When I was knocking [on] the Republican women’s doors, they were asking questions like, ‘So who’s going to raise your kids?’ And that was exhausting because most of these women were 60s, 70s, 80s, and so for those Republican women to look at women like me and – not all of them – but I almost felt like they were being a little bit condescending. So I think there’s the shift in mentality where we have these Republican women who are 60s, 70s, 80s, and their idea of being a good mom is being at home raising your kids, cooking dinner, making sure your husband is fed and his clothes are ironed. And that’s not really…how [those in the Democratic Party] really view women I think. And quite frankly that’s not how the Republican Party as a whole views women either. But it’s just that older mentality.”

Jessica Garvin (r-ok)

State Senator

There are still challenges for women culturally in Oklahoma for varying reasons. …The culture of the ‘Bible Belt’ of Oklahoma might be just a natural deterrent for women running. That is not anything that is outwardly repressive [to women] but it is generally accepted among people within that demographic. …Many of the main religions do not promote women in high-ranking leadership positions.”

Pam Pollard (r-ok)

Director of Finance for National Federation of Republican Women and Republican National Committeewoman

I know that the electorate – the broad electorate – just from talking to people, they [don’t] prefer, not just women who have small children, but in some cases, they don’t prefer men who have small children. We believe highly in traditional values and so anything that looks like we’re taking away from our family…and the time that [is] necessary to develop our children, that’s something that’s not necessarily…celebrated. We believe that our family is our first focus.”

Janelle King (r-ga)

Former Deputy State and Data Director for the Georgia Republican Party

The reason we’re so red is because we’re in the Bible Belt. …For instance, there’s a lovely little gentleman that has supported me in all my races, I just love him. ….I’ll never forget he said, ‘Maybe someday you could be lieutenant governor…and I said, ‘Well, what about governor?’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s a man’s job.’ And for him I couldn’t even find that to be mean, or he didn’t mean it that way. That was just his generation. …He didn’t mean that in any way as a demeaning but that’s what we face when you have such a high percentage of fundamentalism.”

Leslie Osborn (r-ok)

Commissioner of Labor

How do you keep these women around? Because public service…it’s a very toxic environment. It’s a very hard grind. …You’re subjecting your family and your children to all of that. And I think women carry that burden quite differently, and so how do we create a system that allows women to support each other so that they will have longevity in public service and rise to the ranks of being the next agency director or Cabinet member?”

Donelle Harder (r-ok)

President of the PowHER PAC and Republican Political Consultant

I will have events of coming out of the shadows…in my city. …And I will get some text messages that say, ‘I’m so glad that you expose yourself like that so I can just go with my gun and shoot you.’ I would get messages like that to…my personal social media. …Sometimes when you get published in a newspaper or you have an interview… [you receive messages saying,] ‘Go back to your country, you illegal.’ And you start to see that people focus so much on the immigration status of a person that they forget that we’re also humans.”

Daniela Rodriguez (np-ga)

Immigrant Advocate

The threats that were made to me personally — I had to…hire private security for the last month of the [2017] campaign because of death threats to our campaign office. …And it did not stop when I was elected either. …It was a common…thing for my husband and I to be out to dinner and someone would literally walk up to us at our table, dinner or breakfast, and start screaming at me. …It’s a real detriment [to getting people to run for office]. Yes, I get it that as a public servant you’re 24/7…still every person has a right to some privacy and a private life.”

Karen Handel (r-ga)

Former U.S. Representative and Former Georgia Secretary of State

If you care about your clients and your clients are people who look like you, but they are consistently getting death threats, they’re consistently being stalked, it’s emotionally taxing on top of the work that you’re [doing]. You’re calling the [Chicago] Tribune and fighting with them about the problematic articles they’re writing, but then you are also dealing with real true threats. And then you’ve got to look at yourself and say, ‘This is real. This is the state our country is in.’ So it’s another level that I don’t know if a white man would deal with that same thing.”

Alex Sims (d-il)

Democratic Political Consultant

I went to the person who ran campaigns for the Illinois House Republicans and I said, ‘I’m running for Mike Bost’s seat.’ And…this guy said to me, ‘Well, Terri, any place else in the state you would win. I’m just not sure that your district is ready for a woman yet.’ And that was 2014.”

Terri Bryant (r-il)

State Senator

I go into rooms and I have conversations with people where they say, ‘Yeah, Oklahoma’s not ready for a woman in that role.’ …That’s still being said in 2021 and that’s being said to me, as the leader of this party. …So I don’t know what they’re saying, when I’m not around, to a candidate who thinks that they might want to run. …It’s absolutely coming from our donor class…and you can’t minimize the importance of our donor base.”

Alicia Andrews (d-ok)

Chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party

My opponent had the entire political establishment supporting him. …They thought that [support] was more powerful and influential than [my] 22 years of community organizing. I don’t know why they thought that or that, ‘Oh, Pittsburgh is too racist, sexist and homophobic to elect La’Tasha.’ …But you know what voters want? They want real people. They want real leaders. …They want authenticity. So being myself was my greatest asset, being disruptive was my superpower.”

La’Tasha Mayes (d-pa)

State Representative

Women’s Beliefs and Calculations

Individual-level beliefs and calculations among women – shaped by systems-level structural, social, and political realities outlined in this report – both motivate and deter women from pursuing positions of political power.

As noted in chapter two and consistent with research to date on hurdles to women’s political ambition and candidacy, many interview subjects pointed to women’s doubts and concerns about their capacity to take on political leadership roles – whether due to the incompatibility between private and professional demands, concerns about their preparedness, or perceptions that they don’t belong within political institutions – as barriers to increasing women’s political representation. While evident in responses from both Democrats and Republicans, Republicans were more likely to emphasize what they viewed as individual-level hurdles to women’s political power. Interview subjects from both parties and across states, however, described the shifting calculations of and substantial sources of motivation for women as counteracting those doubts and contributing to women’s political engagement, success, and retention. Finally, in describing their own motivations for public service, political women cited the ability to shape public policy, inspire future generations, and build power for their communities – especially racial/ethnic, class, gender, and other communities that have been marginalized from political power.

I think women are hesitant to think they can even do this. And that makes me sad. …They think they don’t belong there. …[When you are in the state legislature,] you see a whole lot of white men.”

Lee Denney (r-ok)

Current Payne County Treasurer and Former State Representative and Cushing City Commissioner

What I’ve found over time talking to women, especially when they are running for office, we tend to look at the criteria…[and ask] do I have this experience or that experience? Where men, they don’t question it at all. They just run.”

Anna Valencia (d-il)

Chicago City Clerk

There are traditional roles that women play all over the world but here, as well, in terms of mothering, parenting, eldercare, [and] sometimes breadwinning, that we don’t see a path to being able to hold up the whole fort altogether [if we run for office]. So I think those are very personal barriers that are constructed…that we have to get over.”

Lindy Miller (d-ga)

Political Advisor and Former Statewide Executive Candidate

I have gotten to pass some pretty amazing things, and that satisfaction does a lot [to keep me motivated to stay in office]. …I wouldn’t put myself through this if I weren’t accomplishing good things. …The balance sheet is tough on doing this job, even with the wins. And so, if I was just here to be here, I can’t imagine it being worth it. …I mean like my first bill — within two days of it becoming law I heard from families whose kids were alive because of it. Talk about [putting] that in my arm…that’s the kind of stuff [that keeps me motivated].”

Kelly Cassidy (d-il)

State Representative

I think of the next generation of Hispanic women coming up and saying, ‘No, I won’t be pushed aside. No, I won’t be silenced. I have work to do, and I’m going to get the work done regardless of the pushback that I receive.’ And there’s been a lot of that. But that pushback is what drives me.”

Republican Woman Leader (r-ok)

What keeps me [in political office]? I’m a Black woman. There is no easier place to be [than in elective office]. There is no more comfortable place to go, right? Black women in corporate America face discomfort every single day and correspondingly less power to actually do something about it, which is an even more, I would say, depressing position to be in. …You recognize that…if you don’t find a solution, then all of these problems will continue to exist that you live with every single day. …Now the question is, would you rather live through it with no hope of gaining control or power? Or would you rather live through it with the hope that you’re building something that will be able to take it on? You are playing that long game, right? I see this as a relay. I also see this as, simultaneously, we are building capacity every single election cycle. So I’m a space holder. I’m keeping a seat warm as the new generation that is more liberal, more progressive…is coming in.”

Summer Lee (d-pa)

U.S. Representative

Prescriptions for Addressing Social/Political Barriers and Opportunities

Increase attention to and amplification of the success and impact of women political leaders.

The success and impact of women political leaders represent opportunities for further progress in building women’s political power. Increasing awareness of women’s electoral success challenges electability biases that persist among political influencers such as party leaders and donors, as well as voters, with potential to motivate recruitment and early campaign support (see chapter two). Sharing evidence of women’s political influence and impact can also change individual-level calculations of political involvement among women, shaping perceptions of accessibility and importance of taking on political roles. Moreover, amplifying the benefits of women’s representation in both elected and unelected political roles can inspire greater support for and recruitment of women as candidates, officeholders, political practitioners, and activists. There is no monolithic or singular impact of women in positions of political power. Promoting the value of women’s political presence, voice, and influence should include attention to the distinct importance of increasing the diversity among women political leaders.

Promote cultural change within political institutions to ensure safety, reduce racism and sexism, and permit authenticity among all actors regardless of identity.

There is no singular prescription that will rid political institutions of racism or sexism. Still, our interviews with political leaders  in five states offer insights into what has moved or might move the needle in a direction that creates political institutions with more equitable distributions of power and friendlier conditions to women and historically-marginalized groups. Building more robust support infrastructures for women within political institutions, as outlined in chapter three, can aid in this cultural change, especially if that includes efforts to ensure that political women who violate expectations and/or challenge the status quo instead of adapting to norms established by white men have the necessary backing – from donors, voters, and peers – to retain their power. Changing culture also requires changing who holds power, and increasing the representation of women in leadership roles – both among staff and officeholders – offers opportunities to disrupt prevailing norms and practices. The responsibility to combat institutional biases cannot only fall on women, however. Male allies, especially those already in positions of political power, must challenge inequities, call out aggressions, and punish inappropriate behavior that creates unsafe and unequal environments for women and people of color.

Create and capitalize on social/political opportunities to build women’s political power. 

Social and political opportunities for building women’s political power can include catalyzing events, short or long-term shifts accessibility to and success within political spaces, and strategic interventions. Building robust pipelines of diverse women for political leadership roles is among the most important proactive efforts necessary to leverage these opportunities as they arise. Expanding efforts to build women’s political power beyond officeholding – as activists, voters, donors, and political professionals – can contribute to the pipeline of potential candidates and officeholders, while also creating additional opportunities for promoting sustainable growth in women’s political power that is neither time-bound nor electorally-dependent.