It’s been nearly 100 years since the 19th amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, but they are still greatly underrepresented in public office. Today, equal representation is needed not only to more accurately reflect the electorate, but also to encourage better performance in our leadership.
Despite the well-publicized gains made in 2018, women make up only 24 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives and 25 percent of the U.S. Senate. In the Michigan Legislature, they comprise 37 percent and 29 percent respectively. And on the local level, they hold just 30 percent of area county commission seats.
While women in leadership remain a minority, research shows that they may actually be more effective politicians than their male counterparts.
In a Pew Research Center survey of eight important leadership traits, women outperformed men in five categories and tied in two. Americans ranked women higher on honesty, intelligence, compassion, creativity and outgoingness. On qualities of hard work and ambition, men and women tied. The only quality in which men scored higher than women was decisiveness.
Yet, when asked whether men or women make better leaders, the results contradicted these other findings — only 6 percent of the 2,250 adults in the survey said that women made more effective political representatives than men.
Why is this? Survey respondents cited gender discrimination, resistance to change and a self-serving “old boys club” as reasons for the relative scarcity of women at the top. They also said that women’s family responsibilities and lack of experience held them back from the upper ranks. But nowhere did they say that women lack what it takes to be political leaders.
Many believe women don’t run because of negative self-perception and self-doubt.
They think women have to be twice as good to get half as far, but in reality there is no evidence to support this notion. “When women run, they actually perform just as well on Election Day; they’re able to raise just as much money, and generally speaking, their media coverage looks very much the same,” says Jennifer Lawless, a Brookings Institute senior fellow who is an expert on the issue.
Even more encouraging, researchers at Stanford University and the University of Chicago reviewed the records of women in leadership and found that “women who were elected to office performed better, on average, than their male counterparts.”
The study revealed that districts served by women legislators were at a distinct advantage over those represented by men. U.S. congresswomen brought home roughly 9 percent more discretionary spending than congressmen, and as a result, about $49 million more each year. In addition, women were better policy makers — congresswomen sponsored more bills and obtained more co-sponsorships for legislation than their male colleagues.
So, the next time that you head into the voting booth, remember that electing more women is not just an issue of equal representation.
When weighing the pros and cons of individual candidates, consider the many characteristics that can make women stronger, resulting in better representation for us all.
About the author: Christie Minervini is the chair of Woman2Woman TC, a 2,400-member organization that promotes equality and opportunity for all. The primary program, Run Woman Run, focuses on getting more progressive women elected and appointed to public office on the local level.
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