By Justin Chermol
At President Trump's State of the Union address last month, the progress of gender equality in the U.S. Congress was on stark display. With many Democratic women lawmakers wearing white in honor of the suffragette movement, the historic strides women have made in the chamber were evident.
In the November Midterm elections, a record-setting 127 women were elected to the House of Representatives ー with 106 women elected as Democrats and just 21 as Republicans.
To celebrate Women's History Month, Cheddar's Megan Pratz sat down with two congresswomen from either side of the aisle to discuss how far gender diversity has come in Congress and how far it still has to go.
Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a veteran lawmaker, has represented Washington's 5th District since 2004, when she was the 200th woman ever elected to Congress. Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley, on the other hand, is a newcomer. The freshman representative from Massachusetts was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House from the state in its history.
McMorris Rodgers acknowledged that the GOP's gender diversity has suffered a setback. "That's painful when you actually take a step backwards," she said.
The Washington Republican is working to make up that deficit. She is the honorary chair of VIEW PAC, an organization with the goal of getting Republican women elected. She has also personally encouraged women candidates like Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington's 3rd district, who was one of McMorris Rodgers' staff members before she ran for office herself. To increase the ranks of women in her party, she said more outreach and encouragement is key.
"We need more women in Congress, period," she said. "I still find that a lot of women are a little hesitant to get involved in politics, and they need to be nudged, they need to be tapped on the shoulder, they need to be encouraged to run for office."
Rep. Pressley is looking to elevate underrepresented voices both in Congress and in her district.
"The Massachusetts 7th district is the most diverse and unequal district in our delegation. Arguably, one of the most unequal in the country. And so I wanted to be here to do that work," Pressley said.
She said she is inspired in that mission by sitting in the office once used by the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm, who was the first black woman ever elected to Congress.
Both McMorris Rodgers and Pressley agree that increasing gender diversity in politics benefits not just women, but the country as a whole.
Pressley said that a diversity of voices in the political process leads to policy decisions that benefit more Americans.
"If we want policies that are fully robust and informed, and do speak to the intersectionality of lived experiences, I do believe that begins at policy- and decision-making tables and in the corridors of power," she says.
McMorris Rodgers said women also bring a different perspective and set of strengths to legislating.
"How they approach politics is different," McMorris Rodgers told Cheddar. "Women are seen as being more trustworthy, willing to work across the aisle, problem-solvers, they're really focused on getting results. Congress could definitely use more of that right now on Capitol Hill. So women bring many of the qualities that people are looking for in their representatives."
McMorris Rodgers advised women around the world to just "go for it."
"Those times when you are hesitating, those times that you're listening to those inner fears and doubts, [my advice] is just to lean in, and take a chance."
Hungry for more stories of female representation in business and politics? Cheddar has turned into ChedHER all day Friday in partnership with JPMorgan Chase to focus on stories of women innovators like Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley. Find their stories here.
For full interview click here.