Women and girls face a troubling contradiction in today’s political landscape: while females lead their male counterparts in academic achievement and areas of civic engagement (such as volunteering, membership in community associations, and voting) women are still largely underrepresented among elected officials.
In April, CIRCLE Lead Researcher Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg spoke at a White House conference on girl’s leadership and civic education. Kawashima-Ginsberg described this pattern of high achievement and underrepresentation in political leadership positions among women—a pattern that also exists in the corporate sector, law, and higher education—and identified five major challenges that help to explain why women are absent from the political arena.
1. Interest Gap: Young women are less likely than men to engage in politics by means of discussion, news intake, and consideration of a future political career.
2. Confidence Gap: Women lack self-confidence in their political leadership abilities and are less likely to consider themselves leaders, good public speakers, competitive, socially capable, and popular—all of which are considered favorable leadership qualities in politics.
3. Expectations Gap: While young women are just as likely to run for student government positions as young men, women are less likely to be encouraged by the people in their lives to run for political office. Women are expected to achieve a certain level of leadership, but not the highest.
4. Race and Class Gap: Women of color and women from a lower socioeconomic background face their own disadvantages in civic participation compared to White, affluent women.
5. Measurement Gap: While many schools give standardized tests to assess students’ competency in civics, these tests do not reveal why there is a gender leadership gap nor do they measure the progress made in closing this gap.
A fact sheet from CIRCLE summarizes these challenges in greater detail, using graphs to illustrate political trends for men and women. Check out the fact sheet and/ or view a web presentation (Prezi) of the fact sheet here.