Women in U.S. Politics

In 2019, 127 women hold seats in the United States Congress. In the House, 102 out of 435 Representatives are women. In the one hundred member Senate, 25 women are Senators.

This year also marked the return of Representative Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. In 2007, Pelosi made history as the first woman ever to serve in that role.  Women also won big on the state level in the 2018 election. Nearly 29 percent of current state legislators are women. The number of women serving in state legislatures has more than quintupled since 1971.

Challenges Remain

A 2018 study on women and leadership by Pew Research Center revealed that 59 percent of Americans would like to see more women in leadership positions, both in politics and in business. But opinions differed by gender. About seven-in-ten women say there are too few women in high political offices and in top executive business positions. Only half of men say the same.

Opinions differed along party lines as well. According to Pew, “Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more than twice as likely as Republicans and those who lean Republican to say there are too few women in high political offices (79 percent vs. 33 percent). And while 64 percent of Democrats say gender discrimination is a major reason why women are underrepresented in these positions, only 30 percent of Republicans agree”.

Beneath it all, the old debate about whether or not a woman is as electable as a man still persists.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, underrepresentation of women in politics can be traced to the fact that female candidates are recruited less often than male candidates. Another factor influencing the percentage of women in politics is the relative difficulty they have raising money to run. The Pew study on women and leadership points to basic gender discrimination as well. About 70 percent of women, but closer to half of all men, believe that women having to do more to prove themselves is a major reason why there are fewer women than men in top business and political positions.

New Perspectives

A new study from the Center for American Women and Politics, based on interviews with women elected to Congress, captures the challenges women face on their path to election as well as the strengths and valuable perspectives they bring to their role. The study focused on what women contribute to the political realm as compared to their male counterparts.

Most of the Congresswomen who participated in the study said that the obstacles they faced relating to gender were far more challenging during the campaign process than those they faced once elected. They also say they are more likely to reach across the aisle and collaborate with colleagues, bridging the divide between Republicans and Democrats. Overall, respondents also said that women serving in Congress are “more results-oriented, that they emphasize achievement over ego, and that they are more concerned with achieving policy outcomes than receiving publicity or credit.”

A study published by Harvard Business Review asked leaders’ peers, bosses, and direct reports to evaluate their performance. The study showed that at all levels of management, women rated higher in 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. For example, women excelled at a higher rate than men in their ability to build relations, advocate for change, practice self-development, collaborate, and display a high level of honesty and integrity. The study also showed that women were better leaders not only because they tend to be nurturing and empathetic, but also because they excel in areas that are traditionally considered “masculine,” such as taking initiative, motivating others, focusing on specific goals, and being results-oriented.

The Path Forward 

As the call for greater numbers of women to run for public office grows louder, the push to encourage and educate young girls about civics has also gained momentum. The Girl Scouts of America recently launched Girl Agenda, a non-partisan program designed for girls as young as age five, which aims to “inspire, prepare, and mobilize girls and those who care about them to lead positive change through civic action.”

Additionally, women who are aspiring politicians – and anyone who wants to support them – can connect with organizations like She Should Run, a nonpartisan nonprofit with a variety of resources that encourage women from all walks of life to run for office.  As stated on their website: “It’s not that we don’t win – it’s that we don’t run”.