The American political system was built on the idea of representative democracy. But those who hold public office look very little like America.
WDN’s Reflective Democracy Campaign seeks to address this problem. Research commissioned in 2014 by WDN found that of over 42,000 elected officials nationwide, from President to the county level, 90% are white, in a country that is 37% people of color.
Additionally, 71% of elected officials are male, even though men comprise only 49% of the population of the U.S.
What this means is that the skills and talents of women, and especially women of color, are not being tapped for the critical problems our country needs to solve. We can no longer afford to exclude some of our best and brightest leaders; we need leaders that reflect the full array of talent that America has to offer. Together, there is no problem we can’t solve. We call this inclusive vision of leadership reflective democracy.
The Reflective Democracy Campaign seeks to tackle the structural barriers that obstruct the creation of a more reflective democracy. Painting a clear picture of who represents us currently and the barriers to elected office and communicating in new ways, we are building demand for reflective democracy and creating more urgency in the country to address this immoral imbalance in our political system.
We launched WhoLeads.Us in the fall of 2014, and the campaign grabbed the attention of national newsleaders like The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Time, CNN and MSNBC; other influential publications including The New Yorker, The Nation, and The New Republic; online media including the Daily Beast, Take Part, and UPworthy; and coast-to-coast radio, television, and print media from Sacramento to Pittsburgh, Tuscon to Milwakee. This attention puts us in a perfect position to keep the conversation going and build even more momentum. See below for a video that recaps some of the Campaign’s impact:
In 2015, the campaign is funding specific pilot projects that will focus on strategies to break down structural barriers that are holding women and people of color back from political leadership. Click here to read more and download our Request for Proposals. Ultimately, we will work in strategic collaborations to push for large-scale systemic reforms like redistricting and how campaigns are financed.
We are also continuing to illuminate the extent of the problem, driving public conversation, and connecting reflective democracy to top issues of the day. In July of 2015 we released a groundbreaking study detailing the race and gender of America’s elected prosecutors — data that was widely covered in more than 200 media outlets from coast to coast.
We believe that achieving a reflective democracy requires two simultaneous changes in our society. First, there must be a major cultural shift to create the mandate for reflective democracy. Secondly, we must tackle the structural barriers outlined above.
The good news is that Americans agree that we need to fix this. 76% of American voters, including 59% of Republicans, want to address this disparity.
Find out more and how you can help by visiting wholeads.us, where you can access this new data, share an informational video and spread the word with sharable infographics and materials.
For further information about this initiative, or to get involved, contact Donna Hall (dhall [at] womendonors.org) or Jenifer Fernandez Ancona (jancona [at] womendonors.org) at WDN, 415-814-1333.
The development of this initiative began with conversations among WDN members in 2010 asking a really big question: how could we change the culture, and how could we build more power for women – across race, class and generation, and for the long term? Under the banner of “Re-Igniting Women,” we completed research, talked with key leaders and held a number of convenings. It became clear that women’s leadership, with a big goal of equal representation in power for women, could be a unifying theme for groups working across many different issues.
When the Sandy Hook shootings shook the country last December, we saw an immediate opportunity to elevate the voices and leadership of women and people of color to radically change the dialogue on an issue – gun violence prevention – that had historically been dominated by white men. We conducted original research elevating women’s views and convened women leaders inside and outside of Congress under the banner of “Women United For.” While we made a difference in elevating a gender lens around gun violence prevention in the wake of Sandy Hook, we also realized that without a critical mass of women at the table, it would be tough to make meaningful change on this or any issue we care about. We returned to focus our efforts on the issue of women’s leadership, and set out to determine how we could make a catalytic and transformative difference as strategic funders in the field.