Gisel Kordestani is COO and cofounder of Crowdpac. As a tech entrepreneur, she has worked in early stage startups and management consulting, and spent over eight years at Google in senior global roles in finance and new business development. The views expressed here are her own. Thirty-five countries have elected women to be heads of state in the past 50 years. While the United States didn't join them this year, most of us still believe that we will live to see a female president. That's a great thing. But here's why it’s not all going to be okay: 96 countries are ahead of us and we’ve just flatlined. It's hard to be optimistic about the future of women in government when you look at other metrics of political power, where data shows that equal representation may not be achieved within our lifetime. Despite making up a majority of voters in every presidential election since 1964, and fielding serious major party candidates for president and vice president, women still fall short in nearly every other metric of political power — as donors, candidates, and elected officeholders. Men still contribute more than two-thirds of all the money in politics. And according to the World Bank, the U.S. ranks 97th when it comes to the proportion of female members of government to the population, lagging behind many European nations and even Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, and Iraq. Women currently make up a mere 19% of the U.S. Congress, a share that's not going to grow in 2017. Even if women picked up three seats per election (the average for the past eight cycles), gender parity in Congress still won’t be achieved for well over 100 years. At the current rate, our great-great-great grandchildren will usher in the first 50-50 Congress in the year 2126.
A closer analysis reveals that the problem for women isn’t winning; it’s deciding to run. There are a number of reasons for this: Women are more likely to assume they don’t have the qualifications to hold office, or that they should start by running for less prominent local offices in order to gain experience. Yet the data shows that once they become candidates, women are just as likely to be elected as men. That’s why in 2017, we should begin an unprecedented effort to encourage more women to enter the fray so that we can achieve equal representation in under 100 years. Fortunately, there are a number of groups working to do just that. Running Start, She Should Run, and VoteRunLead are just a few of the organizations aimed at expanding the talent pool of female leaders, and inspiring a culture that fosters gender diversity in politics. These groups all recognize that in order to be successful, the work to cultivate the confidence and skills necessary for women and girls to run for office must begin at an early age. Silicon Valley is stepping up to the plate, as well. Crowdpac, the startup I cofounded in 2013, has launched a tool that allows users to nominate others (or themselves) to run for office and raise money for a future campaign through pledges, which convert to donations only when the candidate enters the race. The goal of this product is simple but important — to help potential candidates build confidence and grow their support before they take the plunge. These innovations in crowdfunding could prove to be especially powerful for women who are more likely to step up to the challenge when they are encouraged to run by their peers. It should be noted that gaps in gender among elected officeholders have been slower to close in some parts of the country than in others. Populous states such as California, New York, and Florida, which boast a large number of female incumbents also have more female candidates. States like Georgia, New Jersey, and Virginia with fewer female incumbents also field fewer female candidates, according to data we've analyzed at Crowdpac (there were six states in 2016 with neither). We especially need to boost participation by drafting and funding women for office in these lagging states.
Confronted with the glacial pace of achieving gender equality, other nations have turned to quotas. 128 countries have seen mandates instituted at the constitutional, electoral, or political party level requiring more elected candidates and officeholders — the average representation for women in countries with these quotas has risen to 23.4% (low, but still higher than the U.S.). Three of the four countries with the highest female representation in Parliament have instituted quotas. Also noteworthy, in Sweden, some political parties have adopted suggested quotas as a part of a winning strategy to broaden their appeal. But given the political reality of these kinds of policies ever seeing the light of day in America, we’ll need to be proactive as citizens to recruit a new generation of female leaders. Hillary Clinton has inspired a new generation of women to get off the sidelines and engage in our democracy. After all, she won the popular vote, thanks to the majority of women who voted for her. And 60% of her donors were women — a historic first for any presidential campaign. Women may have to wait (at least) four more years for another shot at the highest, hardest glass ceiling, but waiting another 100 for gender parity in Congress is simply unacceptable. The data is discouraging, but the solution is clear. Don’t wait…run.