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Where Are the Women?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tim Shaw
March 20, 2015

ShawAs we approach an historic moment in our nation’s history with the possible announcement of the first truly competitive female presidential candidate, it is high time to ask the questions “why did it take so long?” and “where are the women in public administration?” 

To date, there has been only one female Speaker of the House of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and no female Senate Majority leader. As of the latest Congress, which began in January 2015, there are 84 female representatives (out of 435, or just over 19 percent) and 20 female senators, or exactly 20 percent.

To date, six states have never elected a female representative (Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Mississippi and Vermont). Data from 2012 showed that 25 states (or exactly half of the states) have never elected a female Senator with Delaware, Vermont and Mississippi having never elected a female Representative or Senator. However, in 2014 Joni Ernst was elected Senator of Iowa.

Those numbers are horrible and not just if you are a woman who has eyes on an elected political career. A recent well published study by the new data analytics group Quorum shows that women in the Senate are more productive, more bipartisan and more effective in terms of getting their legislation passed and signed.

The following chart sums up the effectiveness of female Senators according to Quorum’s data:

  Male Female
Bills Cosponsored with Same Gender 4.07 6.29
Cosponsors per bill 5.94 9.10
Bills introduced 70.72 96.31
Bills out of Committee 3.24 4.88
Bills enacted 1.57 2.31

While this data are specific to the 111th Senate, further study could and should be done on the House and on local governments using the same metrics. Perhaps then a woman could run for Congress with the simple slogan, “Women are better at our jobs” and have the metadata to back that claim up.

When looking at women in elected governments around the world, the United States is doing better than some countries. It is far from the best; in fact it is almost completely average. In January 2015, 22 percent of worldwide national parliamentarians are female (the U.S. is at 19.5 percent) – which is double the amount from 1995 (11 percent). The United States, however, is ranked at #72 worldwide in terms of female participation on a parliamentary level (significantly behind Afghanistan, Pakistan and Rwanda which is at number one.)

Across most of the country, on a state level, things start to look even bleaker. Only six governorships belong to women (Oregon, Oklahoma, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Rhode Island). Of elected mayors, only 13 of the largest 100 cities in the United States are run by women. Houston, Texas, being the largest and only city with a 1 million+ population, is run by Mayor Annise D. Parker. It is also notable that she is one of the few openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender mayors to ever be elected.

In state legislatures, the numbers range from 42 percent of women in the state Legislature of Colorado to 12.5 percent of women in the state Legislature of Louisiana. South Carolina has the distinction of having the lowest percentage in the state Senate, with 42 State Senators – only 1 of who is female. To illustrate the uphill battle women have in elected positions, here is a story which really speaks for itself and doesn’t need to be elaborated upon here.

Where things start to look better for women in public administration is in administration or the non-elected side of government. According to the 2011 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission State and Local Government Information (the latest year to be published), the total number of men in state and local government positions is 2.9 million, while the total number of women is 2.5 million, or 53 percent to 47 percent. As in most industries, this apparent equality falls apart when salaries are factored in – with 711,000 men versus 350,000 women making over $70,000 per year.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were no women in Congress. The first would be Jeanette Rankin of Montana in 1917 with Rebecca Latimer Felton of Georgia becoming the first senator in 1922. There were no female governors. Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming would become the first in 1924.

At the beginning of the 21st century, female voices have become increasingly important and transformative, and rightly so. But there is still much work to be done. Perhaps by fostering civic education in our youth and encouraging the millions of women in administrative positions to explore elected roles we could achieve a more equitable gender balance in our local and national politics. The country and our system of government could only be the better for it.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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