Why Don’t Women Run for Office?

By McKenzie Schwark
Feature Writer

Despite comprising over half of the population of the United States, less than 1 in 4 elected officials across the country are women. 

Why in 2020, aren’t women equally represented in elected office? Here are just a few of the multifaceted reasons:

Women Don’t See Themselves in Office

Women are significantly less likely to run for office than their male peers. Running for office doesn’t even occur to many women as an option. Men have primarily held political office for so long, it’s hard for women to picture themselves within those roles. (One example of why representation matters!)

Among men and women who were polled as having the same relevant political experience, 57% of women reported feeling confident in their ability to run for office and win, compared to 73% of men.

Women care about transforming their communities and creating societal change, but are far more likely to see charity work as a means of creating that change, rather than running for political office. The one area of exception where women seem to feel more qualified, and tend to run for more often, is for school boards. 

Women Aren’t Encouraged to Run

After the 2016 election, POLITICO ran a study to find out the reasons why women tend not to run for elected office. Boys and girls have nearly equal interest in politics and student government participation during high school and college. But, the gender gap tends to widen once students graduate, and family and friends are more likely to encourage men to consider a run for political office.

But when women are encouraged to run, and are recruited for political office, they do end up running. But even surpassing those initial hurdles in order to run doesn’t guarantee an easy path to office. 

Heightened Criticism

Women are far more likely to be held to different standards and to be criticized more than their male peers on the campaign trail and in office. A woman’s outfit choice, tone of voice, care taking obligations and even nude photos can become public conversation when she decides to run for office.  

But female candidates have proven just as, if not more, likely to raise the funds and win their seat when they do take the chance to run for office.

Since the 2016 election, many more women have run for political office, and many have won their seat. 2018 was a record breaking year for women in politics, and the midterm elections saw a sweeping victory for women politicians. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women elected to Congress ever (and both in Midwestern states nonetheless.) Sharice Davids became the first Native American woman elected to Congress ever, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to Congress at just 29 years old. 

Progress has been made, but there’s still a long way to go to equal representation.

What can we do to see women better represented in elected office?

  1. Contribute. Support women who are running in this election and future elections with your dollars and your time.
  2. Ask women to run. You already know amazing women who you think would make great leaders. Tell them so, and encourage them to consider a run. 
  3. Vote. Women can’t win without your votes at the ballot box. Commit to learning about the women running in your local races and vote them in.