2014: Women in State Legislatures

Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the “Year of the Woman” pushed new female faces onto the national political stage. Yet despite the (very) modest gains women have made in DC, many state capitals across the country are as male dominated as ever.

In a report which came out late last month, the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislators detailed the vast disparities of female representation in states across the country.

In not a single state did women constitute half of all representation (a reasonable goal) and in only two states, Colorado and Vermont did women make up over 40 percent of elected officials. Although it’s important to note, zero women in the Vermont legislature serve in any of the leadership positions for their parties.

While the numbers are discouraging across the board, there is some notable variation by region. On average, female representation was greatest in the Far-West, New England and in a few of the Mid-Atlantic states. Three of the four worst performing states, where women made up between 5 and 14 percent of officials, were in the south — Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina.  

And as you’d expect. With difficulties even getting a seat at the table, it’s even more rare for women to be at the head of it. Only six states have House Speakers that are women, and only five female governors.

From a party standpoint, women make up a significantly larger share of the Democratic ranks than they do the Republican party. Overall, women account for nearly a third of all state level elected Democrats (still egregiously low) and less than half that number for Republicans. In contrast, of the five female Governors, four are Republicans while only one (Maggie Hassan) is a Democrat.  At the same time, when you expand the leadership positions out a bit, the democratic party wins again — of the 62 women in some form of legislative leadership position 44 were Democrats while only 19 were members of the GOP.

Over time, we’d expect these numbers to continually shift towards being more balanced. But that shift is occurring at a glacial pace. We can help to speed up that process by continuing to emphasize the real need for more female legislators while providing them with the resources and support they need to win and hold onto office.

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