I think the title says it all...
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York first decided she wanted to be a senator when she was 7 or 8. Two decades later, as a law firm associate, she went to an event featuring the first lady, Hillary Clinton, and heard her speech as a personal call to public service.
So Ms. Gillibrand — after waiting another 10 years — ran for Congress.
“It took 10 years volunteering to have the actual self-confidence to say, ‘I can run for office,’” she said. “Women are the biggest self-doubters.”
When women run for political office, they are just as likely as men to be elected. The main reason they are so underrepresented is that they don’t run in the first place.
Even as Americans near a vote that could elect the nation’s first female president, the pipeline isn’t filling up. The number of women serving in office stalled in the 1990s. Women now make up 19 percent of members of Congress, 25 percent of state legislators, 12 percent of governors and 18 percent of mayors. Recent data show the gender gap is just as glaring for the next generation of leaders.
In the last mayoral elections in the top 100 cities, only 19.3 percent of candidates were women, according to a new report by the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance. Among college students, men are twice as likely as women to have considered running for office someday, according to a study by Jennifer L. Lawless of American University and Richard L. Fox of Loyola Marymount University.
“Often women don’t see running as viable even when they are qualified,” said Victoria Lawson, an author of the CUNY report.
The so-called ambition gap has a few causes, researchers say. Women are less likely than men to be encouraged by parents, teachers or party leaders to run — yet they are also less likely to run without being prodded. They underestimate their abilities and assume they need to be much more qualified than men to run for the same office.
A variety of research has found that women are as likely as men to win, and that voters decide based on a candidate’s party, not gender. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a gender penalty: It is difficult to quantify whether gender costs women votes because people are unlikely to admit sexism in polls, and women tend to wait until they are more qualified than men to run for the same office.
Men, however, are 15 percent more likely to be recruited to run, Ms. Lawless and Mr. Fox found.
Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon was a lawyer who worked as an advocate for a women’s organization when a state senator called and asked if she would be interested in a legislative appointment.
“I honestly hadn’t considered anything like that until someone called and asked,” she said. “That’s what it took, and that’s what it takes for women: calling and encouragement.”
Even when women are recruited, they often believe they aren’t qualified enough.
Over her decades in politics, Senator Susan Collins of Maine has talked with many Republican women who were considering running, and she said lack of confidence had come up more than any other issue.
“I have never ever had a male potential candidate say to me that he wasn’t ready, that he didn’t feel prepared enough,” she said. “Over and over again, I have had potential female candidates say to me that they just don’t feel they’re quite ready, that they need more experience.”
This confidence gap is not limited to politics. One often-cited study found that when men and women performed equally on a science test, women thought they performed worse, and were less likely to enter a science competition as a result.
The survey of college students by Ms. Lawless and Mr. Fox found that men were twice as likely to say they would be qualified to run for office after graduating and working for a while, while women were 20 percentage points more likely to say they would not be. Part of the reason is that society rewards men for ambition, but not necessarily women, and women are socialized to be hesitant about promoting themselves.
When women do run, they often start out at lower-level positions than first-time male candidates — school board rather than mayor, or state legislature rather than federal office.
“I do think had I been a man, I would have been more likely to try to potentially run for offices of more responsibility more quickly,” said Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who first ran as a state representative. “I took the admonishment seriously when I was a very young woman when the old guys patted me on the head and said, ‘Put your time in, start at the bottom, work your way up.’”
Women are also more likely to seek legislative positions than executive ones like governor or mayor.
“Women are, quote, collaborative in nature, so that’s an easier sell to voters,” Ms. Brown said. “What is more challenging is for women in executive roles. They need to prove two things: No. 1, that they’re competent, and No. 2, that they’re likable, and men don’t have to prove that they’re likable.”
The CUNY report found that in the most recent mayoral elections, women and men were about as likely to win when they ran — 16.2 percent of female candidates won, compared with 17.6 percent of male candidates. Yet less than one-fifth of candidates were women.
In three studies between 2001 and 2011 of people in careers that feed into politics, such as law, Ms. Lawless and Mr. Fox found a consistent 16-percentage-point gender gap in whether people had even considered running. Of those who considered it, women were 50 percent less likely to actually do so.
Researchers say several things work to nudge more women into the pipeline, including team sports, role models and encouragement from parents, teachers and political leaders. Elected officials bear this out.
For Ms. Gillibrand, 49, playing sports “took the fear out of losing.” For Ms. McCaskill, 63, it was her parents, who “told me from a very young age that I would be the first woman governor of Missouri” (she wasn’t, but was the state’s first female United States senator elected in her own right).
Mrs. Clinton could soon become the highest-level role model yet. But some people worry that this election, with its clashes over sex and gender, could further dissuade women from entering politics.
These candidates are anomalous, though: a woman with three decades in the public eye and a man who has run the most unconventional campaign in modern political history, including misogynistic comments and allegations of sexual assault.
“I’m worried because I think it’s bringing out a lot of myths that don’t actually apply in politics anymore,” Ms. Lawless said. “Women are going to assume there’s this bias and you get undercut and encounter sexism every time you open your mouth, and the reality is that’s just not true.”
Claire Cain MillerOCT. 25, 2016