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Congress Won't Be 50 Percent Women Until 2121. What Is the Hold Up (June 19, 2014)

By Amanda Marcotte

Are we looking at more than 100 years before women finally reach parity in Congress? According to a new report out by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), if nothing changes about how candidates to Congress are pipelined, it will be 2121 before women, who currently make up 20 percent of Congress, finally get up to a full 50 percent.

IWPR found that it's not enough for the parties to be more accepting of female candidates than they were in the past. Male candidates who run can draw on a long history of men supporting other men, and women who would make good candidates often feel far more on their own. After performing 45 interviews with experienced candidates and officeholders and holding multiple focus groups with other politicians and staff members, IWPR found that women had smaller networks than men to access for funding, faced sexist nonsense while campaigning, and had far less support on the home front than male candidates, who can often depend on a wife who devotes herself to his career full time.

One thing the researchers did not find is that women lack ambition. "Ambition is not an issue or a deficit with these women," Denise L. Baer and Heidi Hartmann, the study's authors write. "Most women self-recruited for their first office or campaign, and only one in four say others recruited them for their first office."

That actually may mean that women need to summon more ambition than men in order to get motivated to run, since party officials in both parties are doing a bad job recruiting women. "Half (51 percent) of the Achieving Parity respondents report that they had never received a suggestion from a political party leader to run for higher office," the researchers write. "When asked about power brokers, seven in ten (71 percent) say that no power brokers in their state had encouraged them to run for higher office." Overall, research shows that women are much less likely than men to have been recruited to run for office by party leaders and activists.

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