HARRISBURG — While Hillary Clinton described her nomination for president at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as “shattering a glass ceiling” for women and girls, Pennsylvania’s gender ceiling still appears to be very much intact.
Pennsylvania is ranked 40th in the country for female representation in government, with women representing 18.6 percent of the state Legislature, according to the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University.
No woman has ever sat at the governor’s desk or represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate, and no women currently represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Dana Brown, the executive director of the center, said the trend of unequal representation isn’t likely to change soon.
“We see it as a plateau that will probably continue to hang around 18 and 19 percent,” she said.
This election cycle, six candidates will look to carry the flag for Pennsylvania’s women. Five women are running for five of the state’s 18 seats in the U.S. House and one woman, Katie McGinty, is running for U.S. Senate.
“We would argue that it is not just important for women to have a woman in an elected office; it’s more important for the commonwealth,” Ms. Brown said.
“We know that when women are at the table, they are more likely to reach across the aisle and increase bipartisanship and increase transparency,” she added.
There are also language differences between female and male legislators, she said. Women “talk about bills differently and more collaboratively.”
Research shows that women in Congress are better than men at getting more money and more projects back to their districts and that women in the state Legislature are more responsive to their constituents, Ms. Brown said.
As voters move farther down the ballot, they will see more female candidates running for the state Legislature. However, in comparison with the number of men running, fewer females are taking the gamble of running for office.
In total, 70 women are running against nearly 350 men for 228 seats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. These numbers reflect candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties.
Sixty-seven women are running for 203 seats in the House. Of those running, 34 already hold office in a General Assembly dominated by male voices.
When voters look to the Senate, they will find fewer women. Nine of 50 members are female and only three women are running for the 25 seats on the ballot this year. Two are incumbents.
Research shows that strong political parties and incumbency advantage are causes of the disparity, Ms. Brown said.
“Men often hold onto power and pass on power to other men,” she said. “It’s not in any mean, purposeful way; it’s just these homogenized networks.”
Members of parties are required to support incumbents, making it harder for women and minorities to break in to the party network. Women often aren’t interested in running in challenging races, either, Ms. Brown said.
The Legislature’s status as a full-time, year-round body may play a part, too, she said. More women can be found in volunteer legislatures, like Vermont’s, which is made up of 40 percent women.
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