• February 25, 2022

2022 Could Be a Big Year for Women in Politics

As we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day in March, it is a good time to reflect on the journey women have had in American politics, the hard work still ahead and the potential for 2022 to be a big year. Government affairs teams have a role to play.

There are 145 women who hold voting seats in Congress. Women in the House (121) and the Senate (24) combine to form about 27% of the legislative branch. That’s a historic number—and yet far short of equality in a country where women make up 51% of the population.

Rep. Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to serve in Congress, put it succinctly: “We’re half the people,” she said. “We should be half the Congress.”

As we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day in March, it is a good time to reflect on the journey women have had in American politics, the hard work still ahead and the potential for 2022 to be a big year for women.

Voters will decide the fate of the entire U.S. House, along with 34 senate seats, 36 gubernatorial seats and thousands seats in state legislatures. America could see a Black woman hold a governorship and a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time ever.

It all has an impact on government affairs teams, which work hard to influence lawmakers and shape public policy, and there is much that teams can do to make a difference.

The Progress for Women is Tangible

Rankin, a Republican from Montana, was elected to the House in 1917—128 years after the U.S. Congress began its first session—and she served a single term. Since then, women have seen a great deal of progress. In the last decade alone:

  • Kamala Harris became the first female vice president
  • Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House, regained her role
  • Janet Yellin became America’s first female Treasury Secretary—after serving as the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve
  • The Nevada legislature became the first in the United States with a majority of women
  • Four non-voting delegates in Congress are now women, representing the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa
  • Eleven women are currently serving in the cabinet or in cabinet-level positions, including as secretaries of energy, commerce, interior and HUD

There is More Work Ahead

But there is still much work to be done to reach equal representation. While there is a record number of women currently in Congress, only about 390 women have served in total, which is about 3% of all members, according to the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University. Even now, there are major disparities across the political spectrum:

  • About 31% of state lawmakers nationwide are women, or about 2,297 people, according to CAWP.
  • About 18% of America’s state governors are women, meaning 9 of 50. America has never elected a Black female governor, though there are candidates running in six states this year.
  • 33% of Supreme Court seats are held by women, meaning three of nine justices when the court is at full strength. President Joe Biden has vowed to nominate a Black woman to fill a vacancy, so the number may increase this year.
  • In the 100 most populous U.S. cities, only 31% have a woman serving as mayor, according to CAWP. Among the roughly 1,620 cities with more than 30,000 residents, the percentage falls to 25%.

What Your Team Can Do

When more women hold office, the impact goes beyond improving the count in any one segment of government. It can help improve larger inequalities, such as a gender-based wage gap in which American women continue to earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But the truth is that, in many cases, women simply have a harder time getting elected. In Congress, for example, plenty of female lawmakers are prolific fundraisers. But many also have to raise more in order to win. Women who run for Congress must raise an average of 29% more than men in order to win their seats, according to a Capitol Canary analysis of 170 House races in which women faced off against men in the 2020 election cycle.

For government affairs teams, helping female candidates and incumbents can be strategically beneficial, but it can also help with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and help build a culture of equality, both within your organization and in your industry. For teams that want to work toward equality, there is much that can be done.

  • Diversify Your Support. If your organization supports candidates, take a look at the list. Are women well represented? Your team may be able to do more to support female candidates who agree with you on key issues, whether they are at the federal state or local level. It may not happen overnight. But looking at candidates through the prism of gender could diversify your support over time.
  • Review Your Contributions. The same strategy works for financial support. Organizations that run a political action committee can look at contributions through the lens of gender. Again, adjusting support may not be something you can do immediately. But keeping gender top-of-mind will increase your awareness over time.
  • Examine Your Lists. What is the gender breakdown of your grassroots audience? How about your grasstops leaders? If women are underrepresented, consider running strategic campaigns designed to attract women to your organization. Petition campaigns are a good vehicle.
  • Look for Opportunities. Your organization can look for opportunities to launch campaigns on issues that directly impact women, or support other organizations that do so. International Women’s Day on March 8, and this year’s #BreaktheBias campaign, may be an opportunity. This is one area where you can get creative.At a fly-in just before the pandemic struck, building materials manufacturer CRH brought 35 company leaders—all of them women—to Washington to meet with members of Congress. The Women’s Impact Conference, as they called it, coincided with Women in Construction Week and the group divided up and met with 45 representatives, senators and chiefs of staff. It made the point that CRH is serious about promoting women.“We’re not the most diverse industry,” said John Hay, senior vice president for government relations at CRH. “And we’re trying hard to change that.”