Why Don't More Women Run For Office?

by Emma Cueto

It's no secret that there aren't enough women in elected office in this country — we're still working on getting even one woman into the White House — but the underlying causes are harder to pin down. New research from Brigham Young University, though, provides some clues about why more women don't run for office. And hopefully, identifying the problems will be the first step to solving them.

Despite the fact that women make up about 51 percent of America, women make up a minority of elected representatives at all levels of government. Only about 20 percent of Congress is made up of women, and numbers don't get much better at the state level. Women hold only 25 percent of the seats in state legislatures; are only 24 percent of statewide executive offices, including governors; and only 19 percent of mayors of cities with over 30,000 people.

This doesn't just mean that women are not fully represented at any level of government, although that's certainly true. Since leaders often start out in lower levels of government, it means there's also a major pipeline problem for women to even get to elected office at the national level. In other words, this issue is not going to fix itself.

Victoria Woodhull, who ran for President in 1872.

So what is causing this backlog?

Part of the problem, as BYU political science professor Jessica Preece lays out in her research, is that many of the people in charge of recruiting potential candidates are men, and thus tend to recruit candidates that are more like them — that is, also men. However, she explains, this doesn't account for the full gap in women candidates. Much of the problem is also in the way men and women respond to potential recruitment.

In the study, Preece and her colleagues invited 5,500 men and women to attend a free candidates training seminar — and found that men were twice as likely to respond to the invitation as women. What this amounts to is that even if you try to recruit an equal number of men and women, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll wind up with an equal number of candidates.

It’s not a bad idea to recruit equally, but it assumes that men and women are going to respond identically to recruitment,” Preece explained. “And we have lots of reasons to believe women might be less responsive to recruitment.”

Shirley Chisholm, who became the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968, as well as, in 1972, the first black candidate for a major party's presidential nomination and the first woman to run for the Democratic nomination.

In a second experiment, Preece surveyed a national sample of officials at the municipal level and found that, overall, men assumed that the person who recruited them to run would also help them in the process of actually running. Women did not make this same assumption.

In other words, when men are recruited for local office, they hear someone offering help and support in obtaining an exciting new opportunity. When women are recruited, they hear someone telling them they should try, on their own and in a very public way, to do a difficult thing they have no experience with.

I'd pass on that, too.

Maddie McGarvey/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton, who in 2016 became the first woman to receive the presidential nomination for a major party.

Preece was only surveying municipal officials, but again, municipal office often leads to bigger and better things. And women recruited for state and national office could, presumably, have a similar reaction. Meaning we need a change in how parties recruit women to run.

Party members need to be careful of their biases and make sure they’re reaching out to women, looking for possible candidates in a variety of settings,” Preece said. “And then they need to be sure they’re specific about how they’re going to help throughout the process.”

Hopefully then we will start to see the pace of women's representation increase. because right now, it's taking way too long. I would prefer to see half of Congress be made of women in my lifetime, thanks.

Images: Wikimedia Commons (2)