A recent online survey conducted by the National Association of the Self-Employed revealed that 86 percent of the women business owners questioned plan to vote today.
As leaders of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship and the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, both at Chatham University’s Women’s Institute, we are not surprised by this statistic. Women in business are keenly interested in government because it impacts both their personal and professional lives.
While the survey is focused on businesswomen, an overall gender gap in voter turnout has characterized every presidential election since 1980. In 2012, 63.7 percent of eligible women in the country voted, compared to 59.8 percent of eligible men, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Candidates know that women have the power to decide elections.
While women are strong performers in the voting booth, they do not run our governments at an equal rate to men. Those who lead us are overwhelmingly white and male. In Pennsylvania’s Legislature and the U.S. Congress, 82 percent of elected leaders are male. Pennsylvania has never elected a woman governor or U.S. senator.
The Women Donors Network found that, of 42,000 elected positions across the nation, ranging from local counties up through Congress, only 29 percent are held by women, even though women make up 51 percent of the population. So, while women have power at the ballot box, it is not translating into power in representation.
This paucity of representation matters. Studies have shown that the presence of women in legislatures makes a difference. Women are more likely to work in a bipartisan manner, more likely to bring new issues to the policy agenda, more likely to use cooperative language in deliberation and more likely to increase government transparency. These effects are believed to result in policy outcomes more inclusive of the entire population.
Meanwhile, the number of women-owned businesses has increased nationally by 68 percent since 1997, a rate one and a half times the national average. The growth of these firms also is higher than that of all other privately held businesses during this time period. Census data nevertheless indicate that, while women-owned businesses represent about 50 percent of privately held companies in the United States, most of them (75 percent) reach only up to $50,000 in annual gross revenues. Only 2.6 percent reported more than $1 million in annual revenues, compared to 6 percent of men-owned firms.