Small gains for women in government

Women still hold fewer than a quarter of the top jobs in state government.

Published February 16, 2006 10:07PM (EST)

A disheartening, yet not surprising, new study has found that women hold fewer than a quarter of the top jobs in state governments and have made little progress increasing their representation in the past eight years.

The study, put out by the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany, examined statewide elected officials, high-court judges, state legislators, department heads and top advisors to governors.

"After reporting for almost 10 years these very modest gains for women, I have come to believe it is a very persistent social phenomenon," Judith Saidel, the study's project director, told the Associated Press. "The problem does not appear to be going away."

Arizona is at the top of the heap with 38.6 percent of the state's top positions held by women, while Mississippi is at the bottom with only 12.9 percent.

Saidel speculated that women might forgo government jobs because the demands "often interfere with family duties, such as caring for children or elderly parents, and discourage women from seeking office."

Bob Kearney, the national director of the Political Opportunity Program at Emily's List, added that many women want to seek elected office but don't have the money or the political experience to run a successful campaign. There's also the pesky problem that most incumbents are men, and incumbents are more difficult to defeat.

"Politics is 'one of the last glass ceilings to exist,'" Kearney told the AP. "Women are breaking through it, but it only happens with intentional effort."

We don't mean to bum you out, but here are some more dismal stats: Women hold only 81, or 15.1 percent, of the 535 seats in Congress; 14, or 14 percent, of the 100 seats in the Senate; and 67, or 15.4 percent, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

At least one national organization is a wee bit hopeful that women can improve their political prospects. The National Women's Political Caucus has a stated goal of ensuring that women will constitute 50 percent of Congress by 2020. Do you think that's realistic?

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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