From 1993 to 2004 Washington led the nation in the percentage of elected women to the state legislature, with women occupying 40% of legislative seats. But today we’ve slipped to fifth place.
In Washington state, women hold almost one-third of the seats in the state legislature – 32.7%. That includes 18 female state senators and 30 female state house members. Nationwide, women make up 24.2 percent of state legislatures.
We only have one woman in statewide office, Secretary of State Kim Wyman. And out of Washington’s 37 cities with populations over 30,000, only seven have elected women mayors.
Women are 50.8% of the U.S. population. Yet women make up only 19.4% of Congress. Both of Washington’s senators and four of Washington’s representatives are women, totaling 50% of our state’s congressional delegates.
Why women don’t run
Washington has an incredible pool of talented women leaders. From chief executive officers and executive directors to heads of neighborhood groups and PTAs, skilled women are improving our business climate, education system and communities.
But few of them choose to run for office.
The NWPC-WA conducted a survey to identify the barriers to entry for public office. Women’s biggest concern in their decision to run? The impact on their personal finances and concerns about their job obligations. Women noted that it’s very important that the position be full time and paid, which is significant considering many elected positions are part-time and uncompensated.
The women surveyed said having a strong network to help was the most important factor in their decision to run.
According to a national study by the Center for American Women in Politics, women are much more likely to run than men if they’re recruited by others. Men don’t need to be asked.
Fundraising remains a hurdle. Studies generally show that women, especially those who become general election candidates, raise as much as men of the same party and running in similar situations (as incumbents, as challengers, or for open seats).
Nevertheless, women in politics perceive that fundraising is more difficult for them than for men. A study of state legislators found that women were significantly more likely than their male colleagues to believe that it is harder for women to raise money. In that study, 56% of women state representatives compared with 9% of men state representatives said they believe it is more difficult for women candidates to raise money. In contrast, 44% of women state representatives and 90% of men state representatives believe it is equally hard for men and women.
Among the women state representatives who believe it is harder for women to fundraise, 41% believe the single most important reason it is harder is because women lack the networks that men have. The second most common reason was that women are less comfortable asking for money for themselves.
Why women need to run
Women bring a different approach and expertise to office that is desperately needed. Research shows that women enter public office with specific public policy concerns at a higher rate than men, who are most likely to decide to run for office because they want to be involved in politics. Women are also more likely to come from education and healthcare while most male candidates have a legal or business background.
The impact of the scarcity of women in public office means our voice isn’t heard as loudly on critical issues including reproductive parity, health care, education, child care and family planning. Many elected officials don't consider the impact of budget cuts or policy changes to women, simply because they don’t view the world through that lens.