While the confirmation will not be official until the Democratic Party's convention in July, on June 6 Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first woman to capture the Presidential nomination for a major U.S. political party. At least twenty-eight other women have sought such a nomination or have run as a Presidential candidate for a minority party, some of them multiple times, but it has taken 240 years for this particular event to actually happen. Regardless of whether you are a Republican or Democrat, the implications of this historic moment for the prospect of increased involvement in politics by women is dramatic.
The progress of women in government matters. Since 1917, 313 women have served in Congress with only one ever becoming the Speaker of the House. Currently less than 20% of the House of Representative is female, as are 25% of state legislators and 12% of the nation's governors. This contrasts starkly with the percentage of women at university enrollment (57%) and the percentage of the overall workforce that is female (47%). But Clinton's achievement may have a noticeable impact on women's willingness to seek public office.
While no data yet exists for how a female President will impact women's representation in politics, data does exist related to the outcomes of women in statewide offices. Research by Amelia Showalter shows that electing a woman to a statewide office increases the chance that a woman will stand for any political office by almost double the impact of a gender focused recruitment campaign alone. And the higher the office, the stronger the impact. This is reinforced by research compiled by Jennifer L. Lawless and Danny Hayes, authors of Women on the Run: Gender, Media, and Political Campaigns in a Polarized Era. Their findings indicate that such an electoral success by a woman serves to weaken the perceptual barriers to standing for political office that may otherwise dissuade a woman from running. Weakening and ultimately removing such barriers is key to achieving parity of representation of women in public office.
Hillary Clinton's achievement is a historic one and will likely have far-reaching consequences. But resolving the issue of gender inequality will require a multi-axes approach including efforts leading to equal representation for women in leadership positions, wage equality, non-discriminatory family leave policies and other similar measures of critical importance. Additionally, easing many of the barriers that keep women from participating equally in the sphere of economics will help immeasurably in leveling the playing field. Fair access to capital, to education, to healthcare and other resources must be encouraged and supported. Finally, efforts to ease the burdens of family care that have historically disproportionately fallen on the shoulders of women are needed. To learn more about SNW’s Impact Strategy, including our Gender Equity Focus, click here.