Women and Politics: Strength in Numbers
with Jody Thomas of the National Foundation for Women Legislators
In recent years, women have made substantial gains in politics, including being elected in record numbers to state legislatures and both houses of Congress. However, women continue to be substantially underrepresented in all levels of government.
Jody Thomas, Executive Director of the National Foundation for Women Legislators, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the status of women’s representation in government, and persisting barriers to entry.
Feb 28, 2022
Anderson: In recent years, women have made substantial gains at all levels of government -- record numbers of women in state legislatures and both houses of Congress, Vice President Kamala Harris' historic election as the first female vice president of the United States, as well as Winsome Sears, first female Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. But we are still far from equal or even proportional representation. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Before women even had the right to vote, they were serving in office. In 1969, four years before the passage of the 19th Amendment, Montana's Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress. And since then, 396 women have served in the House or Senate, which sounds impressive until you note that it's just 3% of all Congress members. Joining me to discuss efforts to get more women into elected office is Jody Thomas, executive director of the National Foundation for Women Legislators. Jody, thanks for being here.
Thomas: Well, thank you for having me back, Tetiana.
Anderson: So let's start with the good news, because there's certainly a lot of it here. Of course, we've made some substantial progress over the last couple of decades when it comes to women's representation in politics at every level, but I'm hoping you can talk to us a little bit about what it's looked like in the past.
Thomas: Well, for starters, we have more women in Congress, in state houses, in municipalities than ever before. As a matter of fact, since 1971, the number of women elected on the state level in State, House, and Senate has quintupled. And that's huge. And even more than that, we are getting a record number of Black and Asian-American and Middle Eastern and Latina, and that is just wonderful. We are making major strides, but we're still only -- State legislatures, 31% are women.
Anderson: So really some tremendous strides, as you just said, but it's still not quite parity, right?
Thomas: Right. Absolutely.
Anderson: And, you know, one of the things is this whole myth out there, which I actually thought was accurate, that women have more representation at the local level, but that's not the case. So what's the real situation?
Thomas: Unfortunately, the real situation is, for example, in cities of over 10,000, only 30% of the electeds are women. In cities of over 30,000, only 25% of the mayors are women. So we've got a long way to go.
Anderson: We have a long way to go, and I'm wondering why that is. I mean, why haven't women gained as much ground at the local level? What are some of the challenges they're facing?
Thomas: Harris did a poll in December of 2020 that found that there is still election aversion for a lot of women. The whole spirit of campaigning has turned gruesome and brutal, and that makes women uncomfortable. We're not typically doing that. Women are also busier than ever. They are professionals. They have children. They may be a single parent. And that's a big thing, too. And, unfortunately, this survey also revealed that there still is gender bias in voting.
Anderson: So all of this isn't just about achieving parity in elected office, right? There's still this issue of policy. And I'm wondering how much of an influence these elected women do, in fact, have on policy and how important that role is for the future.
Thomas: Mm-hmm. It's very important. Number one, women are bringing policies to the forefront that have never been discussed before. And women are also getting that legislation passed. Because women are willing to negotiate. They're willing to work across the aisle. They're willing to compromise. And that's what it takes to get legislation passed. I know a number of elected women who have said, "I would rather have 70% of something than 100% percent of nothing."
Anderson: And, Jody, this is such an important topic. I know that people are going to want to know more. So what's your website? Where can they go?
Thomas: Our website is womenlegislators.org and there's lots of information there for everyone.
Anderson: Jody Thomas with the National Foundation for Women Legislators. Thank you so much for being here.
Thomas: Thank you for having me, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.