Why a stark gender gap in politics persists

Research shows a stark gender gap in the politicians who represent not only the United States but also New York. In the state alone, less than a third of state senators are women, despite making up a slight majority of the population. 

Sarah Blas ran and lost a bid for New York Senate in a Staten Island district. The busy mother of six decided to run for public office for the first time to make life better for her children.   

"I would say the one thing that really allowed me to run for office was legislation that allowed candidates to use campaign funds for childcare," Blas said. 

Blas hasn't ruled out running again. She's in the minority, even in New York. VoteRunLead, the nonprofit that trains women to run for political office, shows the huge disparity of women, and women of color, in state legislatures. In New York, only 30.7% of state senators are women, despite being 51.4% of the state's population.  

"We looked not just at the number of women, but we looked at women of color, and we went deep into different racial identity groups — Latinas, Native Americans, Black women," said VoteRunLead founder and CEO Erin Vilardi said. "What was their representation in our Senate and Houses compared to the population in our states? And we found that we're woefully underrepresented across the board. So it's time for us to know the data so that we can move forward and start to close this gender gap."  

Childcare is one of the main reasons listed as to why women are reluctant to run for public office. Fundraising is another problem.

"I would like to see that this generation that is coming up, women who are either mothers or not but interested in making change be in elected office," said New York City Council Member Gale Brewer, who has dedicated her career to public service.  

New research shows something else holding women back from seeking elected office. The Center for Democracy and Technology has new research showing women candidates, particularly women of color, are more likely than men to be targets of online harassment.

"One of the things that we found through our studies is that women are feeling directly targeted, not on the political issues but they're being targeted with mis- and disinformation, with online attacks because of their gender and because of their race," the Center for Democracy and Technology's Alexandra Givens said. "We have to think about what the consequences are of these online attacks on a representative democracy and having voices of diverse candidates in the public square."

 Those advocating for more women to hold public office feel closing the gender gap at the local, state and federal level is essential.