The moment Vice President Kamala Harris was sworn in was a high point in the centuries of hard-fought battles led by so many- from abolitionists and civil rights leaders to advocates of women’s suffrage and women’s rights activists and so many others fighting for not only equity but representation. It is clear that we have not yet achieved equity or full representation for people of color or women. Yet, as with all prolonged fights, it is important to pause and celebrate successes along the way. The first female, Black and person of South Asian descent took her place as second in line for the most powerful political position in the world. In addition, the Biden administration is poised to be one of the most diverse in the history of the nation with half of cabinet nominees and appointees being people of color and nearly half being women. The composition of Congress is also slowly becoming more diverse. Progress has been slow but steady.
Why Does Representation Matter?
We cannot underestimate what it means to see people in power who look like us, come from similar backgrounds and represent similar values. It matters that girls and young people of all races and backgrounds can see a path to leadership-political or otherwise. But simply seeing others in these roles does not give young people a path to achieving their goals nor does it change the inequities that persist in all aspects of our society. As we celebrate success, it is also important to reflect on ways representation in leadership can translate to progress. It only truly matters if it changes policy, norms and opportunities outside the halls of power. Fortunately, there are examples of how increased representation can have real consequences.
- Female Members of Congress are More Effective for their Districts: A study of Congress from 1984 to 2004 showed that female legislators sent 9% more funding back to their districts compared to their male counterparts.
- Female Members of Congress Focus More on Women’s Issues: A 2005 study found that female liberal members of congress sponsored an average of 10.6 bills related to women’s health- twice as many as their liberal male counterparts.
- Congressional Black Caucus Leads on Police Reform: Members of the Caucus have been sponsoring legislation for years, without much success. There seems to be more of an urgency around addressing racism. The Black Caucus are trusted leaders who can sponsor legislation and have the political capital to get it passed.
We should celebrate the increased diversity in our federal government. It did not happen by chance. It happened because so many raised their voices, changed policies, and voted to elect those who see the value in the lives and dreams of all. It is also imperative that that work continue here in our state, in local communities and in nonprofit, healthcare, and businesses throughout the region. All of us must do what we can to increase the representation of women and people of color across all sectors, as doing so will promote greater equity.
For more Equity Matters, visit Foundation Publications.
 KIiff, S. (2017). The Research is Clear: Electing More Women Changes how Government Works. https://www.vox.com/2016/7/27/12266378/electing-women-congress-hillary-clinton
 Bresnahan, et. Al (2020). “We Cannot Flunk this Moment: Black Caucus Looks to Deliver. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/06/25/black-caucus-congress-police-brutality-338360