In spite of the gains women have made in the past several years, we are still subject to increased scrutiny from the media, can face sexist silencing by colleagues, and often must fight to break into established political networks in order to have an impact on the political agenda.
This struggle for women in politics is outlined in detail in the new ReflectUS (a coalition of which my organization Ignite is a member) issue brief, Ensuring Success: What Happens After Women Win. This brief affirms that for women in elected leadership, the path we travel is paved with different, often more difficult stones than for our male counterparts. As the only woman serving on the elected Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, I know that my journey is different from that of my male colleagues.
Women know we have to be experts to accomplish our goals. We also know that we are going to face sexism wherever we are—in a study published in 2020, it was found that 90 percent of people globally hold some sort of bias against women. The same study found that 39 percent of people in the U.S. believe men to be better leaders than women. Yet the research also demonstrates that women are becoming more educated, have gained a larger share of the workforce, and are increasingly becoming the breadwinner in families.
With the increased educational and economic advancement of women—while certainly not equal to men—there also comes the desire for increased political leadership. Yet, in the political world, women are often newcomers to their seats. In fact, men account for more than two-thirds of elected officials at the federal, state and larger locality levels, making the presence of more women a newer phenomenon that is often seen as an exception rather than the rule. Women are more than half the U.S. population and have never held more than one-third of elected offices at any given time at any level.
To date, only one woman has ever led the U.S. House of Representatives—Speaker Nancy Pelosi—and only one woman has served as the president of the U.S. Senate—Vice President Kamala Harris. Subsequently, 2021 was the first year in which the U.S. president has ever been flanked by two women on the dais in a joint address to Congress. It took 232 years since Congress was founded, 105 years after the first woman was elected to Congress, and 101 years after the 19th Amendment was ratified to get to this point.
Enough is enough.
Let’s hope that this issue brief sparks an important conversation around both how we attract more women to run for office, and just as importantly, how we ensure their equal treatment once serving in political leadership.
Shay Franco-Clausen is ReflectUS Coalition member IGNITE’s West Coast region program director and serves the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. She is also the director of gender and equity for the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee and an adult advisor for California High School Democrats. She is a mother of five children with her wife, loves to hike, surf and is a Bay Area DJ. ReflectUS is a national, nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic and geographic spectrum.