Why aren’t more women in the U.S. government?

By Michelle Klug

The U.S. government has a gender problem. There simply aren’t enough women in positions of power. In the U.S., women make up only:

  • 13% of the U.S. cabinet
  • 33% of Supreme Court justices
  • 19% of congressmembers
  • 21% of mayors

In fact, all other G7 countries surpass the U.S. in terms of gender balance. Canada and France, for example, recently selected an equal number of women and men to sit in cabinet positions.

While balanced cabinets certainly make a bold statement on equality, it’s not just a clever PR move: Female representation also indicates a strong democracy. “A central criterion in evaluating the health of democracy is the degree to which all citizens — men and women — are encouraged and willing to engage the political system and run for public office,” according to a Brookings report.
 
And, as it turns out, having more women in government leads to more policies on issues that disproportionately affect women.

An international study showed that governments with more women leaders tend to create legislation around issues of health, education, family care and social welfare, according to CUNY.
 
Why aren’t women running for office?
 
Women are going into the same professions that typically precede political office, like law and business, but are much less likely to make the jump into politics.
 
“There are a number of barriers preventing women from running for office, such as gendered social roles, negative self-perceptions, limited exposure to politics and lack of support and funding,” according to the Brookings report.

While women are just as likely as men to consider a run for office, they are far less likely to be recruited or encouraged to run.

Women also don’t view themselves as viable candidates — in fact, men are 65% more likely than women with similar experience to view themselves as qualified to run for office, according to researchers.
 
These are symptoms of gender bias on a larger scale; women receive fewer promotions and raises in the workplace, despite asking for them. They often lack confidence during the application process, and have the misguided notion that they aren’t actually qualified to hold these positions.

But as we become more societally aware of these biases, we take a step closer to changing them. Check out our breakdown of women’s representation in government in G7 countries, and see where the U.S. ranks.

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