CLEVELAND, Ohio — In 2017, men still far outnumber women in elected office in Ohio and across the country.
Only three of Ohio’s 18-member delegation to Congress are women.
Ohio has only six female state senators out of 33, and only 23 out of 99 state representatives, according to the non-partisan Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Women make up about 51.2 percent of Ohio’s total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
(Graphic: Center for American Women and Politics)
The gender gap in politics is not a problem exclusive to the Buckeye State.
Female lawmakers hold only 105 of 535 seats in the U.S. Congress — that’s a little less than 20 percent, according to the center.
And women hold about 24.5 percent of the seats in state legislatures across the country.
To learn more about why women are underrepresented in elected office, cleveland.com is interviewing female politicians on the federal and state level for a periodic series called A Woman’s Place. We’re asking them about what women bring to government, and the challenges they face.
Ohio lags slightly behind the national average of female representation in Congress and in the statehouse. A woman has never been elected Ohio governor, according to CAWP. But that could change in 2018.
Half of the candidates running for governor — Republican Mary Taylor, and Democrats Nan Whaley, Betty Sutton and Connie Pillich — are women.
“That’s pretty unusual,” said Jean Sinzdak, Associate Director of the Center for American Women and Politics. “It’s not that typical to have that many women running for a statewide seat. It’s still early in your race.”
Women are less likely than men to be asked to run for office by political recruiters. But when they do run, their chance of winning is just as high as male candidates, Sinzdak said.
Women candidates also struggle with incumbency — because more men are already in office, more men have a better chance of winning.
“The research has shown that women are more likely to bring transparency to government, open up the process up, and have more of a process, more likely to bring marginalized groups that otherwise don’t have a voice into the political process. Women elected officials are more likely to build consensus across the aisle,” Sinzdak said.
For our series, we thought we’d start with an officeholder who soon will become the longest serving woman in the U.S. House: Democrat Marcy Kaptur.
Kaptur entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1983. In her 30-plus years in office, she’s seen things change for women. Here are some of her thoughts on what women bring to politics.
On the gender gap:
“It is a majority male field at the moment, though it changed, my goodness. We now have about 20 percent of the U.S. House that are women. When I got there, there were only 24 out of 434. Now we have over a 100. It’s like a revolution if you look at it down the track rather than up the track. I think we’ve come a very, very long way.”
On women running for Congress:
“Initially, the women that ran usually succeeded their husbands, or their husbands died, and they ran for the seat, and that’s a legitimate way to come in. But post-World War II, what we saw was more American women becoming educated and going into different professions, and reaching a point where they could run on their own. And I’m, sort of, (part) of the more recent generation, where I knew this was what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to help the country. I didn’t know that I wanted to be in elected office.
“I think we are getting women now in the Congress, who have served in their state legislatures — I never did that. I wasn’t in the Ohio legislature. Some have been attorneys. We have sheriffs, women who have been sheriffs.
“I think women are coming from different professions into the Congress. We have a few that have been journalists. We have women who have raised their families, who have been on local school boards, so it just depends on the individual. But you have to be drawn to it. You have to really want to do it.”
On what women bring to the table:
“I think that many of the issues that confront working women have been channeled because of women coming to Congress or, for example, the trafficking of women around our country. That issue wouldn’t have reached the level that it has, in terms of buoyancy, had it not been for women being there.
“What I find is when women are around the table, the discussion broadens. It is imbued with a more comprehensive set of thoughts. And also a probing deeper into what are the roots of this situation, whatever the situation might be.”
On how things have changed:
“Another change I’ve seen, somewhat – when you speak in Congress, you speak in a microphone and people wander around the floor. And it was particularly bad for women. You weren’t listened to initially. It took about 10 years before the room would fall silent if you were trying to say something. And there’s a greater respect and feeling of equality for those woman members than initially. Though I have to say, for most of the men I’ve worked with, even early in my career in Congress, I was treated very fairly.”