Seeing the first woman vice president sworn into office was an amazing breakthrough. Not only did Kamala Harris smash a lofty glass ceiling, but she ranks as the first woman after 48 white male veeps. She’s also the first Black woman and Asian-American woman in the White House. But, if Harris’ triumph was a watershed, it was only the most obvious triumph of the day.
Not since 1992, the “year of the woman,” have women so decisively entered the halls of national, state, and local governments. The numbers tallied after the 2020 elections have been overwhelming. Not only are women increasing their numbers in government, but so are minorities and so are minority women. Even while President Trump was losing his election, Republican women were increasing their numbers.
Just to look at President Biden’s nominees for cabinet and senior adviser posts is stunning. Twelve of the 28 top candidates are women; seven of them minority women. That ethnically diverse group will be joining 15 men, four of them minorities, all slated for important policy roles.
Women, too, will overwhelmingly guide coverage of the White House and politics during the Biden administration. According to Axios Media Trends’ writer Sara Fischer, women are also being propelled into influential roles by a slew of newly-appointed leaders at major TV and radio networks, newspapers, and digital outlets. Female representation in the Washington press corps has been multiplying. We’ve begun seeing more women behind cameras and bylines. For the first time, the chief White House correspondents from ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN are all women. They’ll be working with an all-female communication team at the White House — the first time in history such a dynamic has occurred.
Congress, too, is seeing effects of the gender revolution. Years ago, women activists wore T-shirts that proclaimed, “A Woman’s Place is in the House and Senate.” That was 1992; now, 29 years later, the narrowing gender gap is more pronounced. Close to a quarter of the 535 members of the 117th Congress are women. Of those, 35 percent are women of color.
These gains extend to many states as well. Washington’s congressional delegation is woman-dominated. The state sends two women senators and six of its 10 House members to the other Washington.
This state’s Legislature, too, reflects not only a wave of women, but even more noticeably a leap in the number of minority women. Senate Deputy Majority Leader Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) — she herself the first Sikh elected to a state legislature — remarked on the doubling of women of color in 2018 and tripling in 2021. The state House is remarkable for the lop-sided number of women in Democratic leadership roles, starting with Speaker Laurie Jinkins.
Although more than 41 percent of Washington’s Legislature are women, this state now ranks only third when it comes to women’s representation. Nevada boasts 52.4 percent; Colorado 47 percent.
If one is counting the influence women are having, it’s important to look at judicial roles as well. Seven of this state’s Supreme Court justices are women and, of those, three are minorities.
The large number of women in office has been bolstered by a governor who has done more than pay lip service to his promise to level the playing field for women and people of color. As recently as 2012, 20 of Washington’s 31 judicial districts and court systems had never had a woman on the Superior Court bench. Today that bench has 44 percent women, with King County having more than 50 percent women judges. Inslee’s cabinet of 25 people lists 11 women and five minorities. Women make up half of his executive staff of eight, including the top three posts.
It’s probably not a surprise that it took some unusual factors to help bring so many women into power positions. The year-long pandemic likely played a role in changing voters’ outlook on who and what matters. Social unrest also may have been a factor.
Does it matter that women have more power today than they did even a year ago? And do women govern differently than men? Conventional wisdom says women can better handle social issues than men; reputedly, men do better with economic issues. People also believe women are better at compromise; men at execution. Studies studies such as those conducted by Pew Research Center show there isn’t that much difference in men and women’s leadership.
The number of women and minorities in positions of power could point to greater attention to issues closest to the electorate such as minimum wage, paid family leave, education and child care. But whether or not there are major changes, more women in office and power cannot help but promote democracy, meaning governments more like the people they serve.