Recruiting and Training Women for Public Office

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024

Today, women hold less than one-third of elected offices in the U.S. at both the federal and state levels. What would our laws and public policies look like if legislatures across the country mirrored the broad diversity of American citizens today? The Ascend Fund, which supports nonprofit organizations that train and recruit women to run for public office, is working to find out. Their goal, along with their nonprofit partners such as Native Action Network and Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, is to achieve gender parity with proportional racial representation in all 50 states by 2050. 

“When women lead, our nation will be transformed,” says Gabrielle Fitzgerald, founder and CEO of the Panorama Group, which runs The Ascend Fund. “There’s a lot of research that shows women are more likely than men to work collaboratively and work in their constituents’ best interests. Women pass a larger number of bills than men, and they’re more focused on getting things done.”

Research also shows that women in elected office are more likely than men to prioritize issues affecting women and families, including reproductive rights, paid family and medical leave, child care, and sexual harassment.

“What we’re seeing every day is legislation being introduced that is not meeting the needs of many women, and it’s because their voices aren’t being represented,” says Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald gives the example of the Build Back Better Act, which would have required employers to offer 12 weeks of paid family leave. Less than one in five U.S. workers have access to paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a sick family member. The bill also would have funded subsidies for childcare, universal pre-kindergarten, and expanded long-term care options for the elderly and disabled. Despite the U.S. lagging behind most countries in the world with paid family leave and support for childcare, the white-male-dominated U.S. Congress dropped these provisions from the bill. A pared-down version was eventually signed into law as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

“Women bring different lived experiences to the table and, as a result, they govern differently and shift the agenda, ultimately bringing much-needed change to our pale, male, and stale institutions,” says Fitzgerald. 

Breaking Barriers

The Ascend Fund supports potential women candidates by investing in a diverse range of nonpartisan organizations that recruit and train women to run for public office, and they convene the leaders of these organizations to solve problems, share resources, and provide strategic support. 

Since their launch in 2020, The Ascend Fund has invested more than $9 million in 29 national, state, and local organizations, which have trained nearly 80,000 women. Their model has stellar results. Women with this training who have run for public office have a 67% win rate in their primaries and a 66% win rate in their general elections – nearly double the national average for women candidates.

“Our partners could program an additional $10 million tomorrow, and upwards of $100 million is needed to ensure the transformational change we all wish to see,” says Fitzgerald. “The time to invest is now.”


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