Where are the women in our democracy?

women-in-congressWomen are 50.8% of the US population, but are only 19.2% of our Congress. Looking at State and Local office, the
percentages only go up 1-5%. And those numbers have been fairly consistent for a decade. So why are women so under-represented in government? With just 2 weeks before a presidential election of historic proportions, we are taking a look at why progress has stalled and what it might take to get some momentum going.

The Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) has a great timeline on milestones for women in office. Take a minute to let this sink in: women ran for office and were actually elected serve as Mayors, State Senators, and Representatives in the US Congress before women even had the right to vote. Now almost 100 years later, women still make up less than a quarter of our political leaders. This is surprising, especially considering these facts:

  1. Women are half of the population we call “the greatest democracy on earth”
  2. Women turn out to vote more than men
  3. Women are just as likely as men to win elections


If numbers are not the issue, and winning is not the issue, the obvious reason there are not more women in office is they don’t run. According to the Brookings Institute, “women, even in the highest tiers of professional accomplishment, are substantially less likely than men to demonstrate ambition to seek elected office. These results hold regardless of age, partisan affiliation, income and profession.” The study cites several main reasons:

  • Rigor of the campaign (toll on self and family)
  • Less likely than men to be recruited to run
  • Lack of freedom to reconcile work and family with political career
  • Often feel “less qualified”
  • Do not perceive a fair political environment

Momentum’s CEO, Barbara Royal, has a few more reasons to add to the list:

  • Women are sometimes less thick skinned than their male opponents
  • Generally women are not as experienced at raising money
  • Women may be less networked
  • Some women share a perception that dealing in “money or policy issues” is not women’s role

Researchers say that women role models, team sports, and encouragement from teachers/leaders/mentors are factors most likely to bridge the confidence gap that keeps more women from running for office. Stronger policies to support working families would also go a long way to giving women the freedom to pursue demanding careers, including public office.

Do you want to know how we can help you gain Momentum?

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