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New Research Explores the Barriers Women Face in Seeking Higher Office
Washington, DC—A new report released today by Political Parity, a nonpartisan program of Hunt Alternatives, finds that women in politics often encounter a series of structural and social roadblocks that make it difficult to navigate a road to higher office. The findings in the report draw on insights from focus groups and in-depth interviews conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and polling of female state legislators by Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting.
Women hold fewer than 20 percent of seats in Congress and just 5 of 50 governorships. Women’s ascent to high office has slowed rather than accelerated in the past decade. If current trends continue, IWPR projects that women will not hold an equal number of seats in Congress until 2121.
“Women have made progress getting into formerly male-dominated careers, such as law and medicine, through higher education, but there is no single degree or path that enables someone to enter elected office,” said IWPR President Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. “Women running for office must overcome significant barriers put up by informal and diffuse political networks that advance candidates to higher office.”
Findings from IWPR’s qualitative study outline the challenges faced by women candidates and office holders, including sexual harassment from their male colleagues, donors, and voters, and a demanding work schedule, which often requires them to hold multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet.
IWPR’s study outlines several recommendations for making systemic change so that more women are recruited to run and are then supported throughout their political careers.
“The political leaders we studied do not lack ambition. They make extraordinary sacrifices to pursue political careers that they love and believe will make a difference in the lives of the people they serve,” said Denise Baer, Ph.D., an independent consultant and co-author of the IWPR study. “Expanding candidate recruitment to include arenas where women are already leaders, such as in community organizing, as well as reducing structural barriers, including ‘campaigning while female,’ will grow women’s numbers.”
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt Organization that conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies.
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