Where Are All The Women?

Strong confident woman.

Women outnumber men in all but one of the five largest cities in the United States. But when it comes to representation in local government, women are nowhere near men’s ranks.

NEW YORK (ranked #1 largest city in the U.S.)
New York has 51 council districts representing its five boroughs (Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island). Only 13 of the 51 council districts are represented by women, which is about 25 percent. That’s putting the “Man” in Manhattan.

LA (2nd largest city in the U.S.)
The most shameful example of the lack of female representation in city government is in Los Angeles. As of today, there is only ONE female city council member out of thirteen. Yes, Monica Rodriquez just won a seat, but she hasn’t started work yet. When she does, women will represent about fifteen percent of the total number of seats on LA’s City Council.

CHICAGO (ranked #3)
In Chicago, there are 12 women out of 50 alderMEN elected from 50 wards. Women only make up about 24 percent of Chicago’s city council, even though women out number men in the general population.

HOUSTON (ranked #4)
Okay, Houston does have a few more men living in the city than women, but still: out of 11 city council members, only 3 are women. Based on population, it should be more like 5 or 6. Houston, we have a problem.

PHILLY (ranked #5)
Rounding out the top 5 largest cities in America is Philadelphia. There are 10 council members in Philadelphia and 4 are women. That’s 40 percent. But women make up more of the population and are therefore still underrepresented.

SAN FRANCISCO (ranked #13)
The city of San Francisco didn’t make the nation’s top 10 list in terms of size, but SF is killing it with the ladies. The City by the Bay has more women on its board of supervisors (they don’t have a city council) than men, in spite of the fact that men out number women in the general population. The Board consists of 11 members and 6 are women.

AUSTIN, TEXAS (ranked #11)
Sorry SF, things are bigger in Texas. Austin has 11 members on its city council, and incredibly, 7 are women, even though there are more men in the general population. Yeehaw!

Why does all of this matter? City councils have the power to directly affect people’s lives in small ways, like banning plastic shopping bags and raising taxes on cigarettes, soda, and gas, to bigger issues like approving development projects that can transform cities for the better—or the worse. For instance, the New York City Council is expected to propose a subsidy to help pay the subway fare for low-income workers. That could help a lot of people.

[W]hen I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And I say ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’s been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that. — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

If more women were in city government, would they govern differently than men? Some research from around the world shows that women tend to be more collaborative and bipartisan. They advocate for policies that support women, children, and social welfare. And they interrupt less and listen more. So if women outnumbered men in government, would it change anything?

Women have the great potential to govern differently. But my expectation is that’s going to be less overt than behind the scenes, because the reality is you have to play the game as the game’s played. — Lyn Kathlene, a political scientist and director of the Spark Policy Institute

We can’t know what impact women can have until their numbers are more accurately represented in government. There are five female governors in the U.S. (out of 50) and only 104 women in Congress (19 percent of seats). It’s unclear why more women don’t run, but that trend may be changing.

Emily’s List helps women get elected. In 2015 and 2016, about 920 women reached out to Emily’s List for assistance obtaining public office. Since Election Day, over 13,000 women in every state across the country have contacted the organization. Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List told the New York Times:

We’ve never seen anything like it.

If you’re interested in running for office, here are a few groups that can help.

She Should Run (non-partisan)
Rutgers – “Center for American Women and Politics – Ready to Run” (non-partisan)
EMILY’s List (pro-choice Democrats)

Suburban Stats – Los Angeles
Wikipedia – List of United States cities by population
New York Times –“Help Poor New Yorkers Buy Transit Passes”
New York Times – “Women Actually Do Govern Differently”
Rutgers – “Fast Facts About American Governors”
Center for American Women and Politics – “Women in the U.S. Congress 2017”
The Christian Science Monitor – “Surge in first-time women candidates running for public office, inspired by presidential election”

Feature image courtesy of kleferpix – iStock.

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