Where are all the female chiefs of staff?

The recent findings of the Women’s Campaign Forum (WCF) indicate that the number of female Chiefs of Staff on the Hill remains remarkably deficient.

The good news is that the percentage of Congressional women Chiefs of Staff is double their representation in Congress. The bad news is that neither one is close to 50 percent—with women comprising only 17 percent of Congress and 35 percent of Chiefs of Staff.

There are many reasons why we need more women in leadership roles, such as their decision-making skills and unique world views. But we also need more women in power to ensure their march toward equality continues—as it seems that women leaders have a greater tendency to hire and promote other women:

  • In the past four years, the percentage of male House Members with a female Chief of Staff has remained below one-third.
  • The number of female Representatives with a woman Chief of Staff has increased throughout the last four years, but still lingers below 50 percent.
  • The percentage of male Senators employing a female Chief of Staff has actually decreased over the past four years, and is now estimated to be only 20 percent.

So if having more women in leadership positions is an integral part of increasing gender equality, especially on the Hill, then I have to ask: How will we ever get there when the number of women in our government has also ceased to grow—and may actually decrease after November 2?

The answer is that gender equality cannot be solely a priority for women’s organizations and activists.

Research continues to show the benefits of having more diversity in decision-making processes, which affects both men and women. The National Council for Research on Women reports that women consider different issues and are more collaborative while making decisions, which leads to more win-win outcomes. In fact, Ernst & Young declared last year that companies with more women in senior management roles are more profitable.

Part of the answer also lies in the importance of focusing on family issues. Specifically, women still seem to be held back by the demands of children and family—especially in politics and on the Hill. As Erika Lovley reported in POLITICO last week,

“…some staffers say the Hill, which often demands long hours and low pay, is inhospitable to women, who often want to raise a family around the age when they would be eligible for high-level positions.”

We’ve seen many Congresswomen and female public officials successfully balance work and family in the last few years—however, it’s clear that women still face a decision between career and motherhood. As a mother of three myself, I know it’s not easy to drive a busy career and raise little ones. However, I also know all too well how many barriers to success still exist for working mothers.

If there is one overarching lesson to be learned here, let it be this: Our society has far too many wide-ranging beliefs and policies that prohibit women’s advancement, especially in our government. Whether it’s a comment about a woman’s hairstyle or a policy restricting a mother’s ability to work and raise children—these actions are extremely damaging to advancing women’s leadership.

In fact, a new study to be revealed on September 23 from Lake Research Partners shows that, specifically, sexist attacks against women candidates by the media are detrimental to their campaigns.

So as WCF prepares to say Hail to the [women] Chiefs for the sixth year in a row, I call upon all members of Congress to take a look at their staff members. If half of them aren’t women, you have work to do. Everyone can benefit from having more women’s voices at the table, and it is everyone’s responsibility to destroy that titanium ceiling.

Siobhan Bennett is the President and CEO of Women's Campaign Forum.