The ratio of female to male Members still lags behind population figures, but the rise of top female staffers on Capitol Hill is encouraging, according to the Women’s Campaign Forum. In fact, there are more top female aides than female lawmakers.
The nonpartisan WCF, which works to bring women who support abortion rights into political roles, on Wednesday released a study that analyzed the number of current female chiefs of staff or equivalents in personal offices and broke them down by chamber, party affiliation and boss’s gender.
The study found that 23 percent of top Senate staffers and 31 percent of top aides in the House are women, compared with 16 percent of Senators who are women and 17 percent of House Members.
The fact that more women are stepping into those top staff roles is encouraging, according to Ilana Goldman, the group’s president.
“The staffers, the advisers — particularly chiefs of staff — these are incredibly powerful positions,” Goldman said.
Will that translate into more female Members? Maybe.
“I think there is a long-standing tradition of folks getting their feet wet and getting inspired,” Goldman said.
Democrats hire more women as chiefs of staff, the study found. In the House, 37 percent of Democrats hired women for the position, while 25 percent of GOPers did. In the Senate, the difference was smaller — 26 percent of Democrats hired female chiefs compared with 20 percent of Republicans.
Broken down by gender, House Members almost equally hired women as top aides — 35 percent of Congresswomen and 30 percent of Congressmen. But male Senators are more likely to have female chiefs — 31 percent among the male Senators and 21 percent among female Senators.
While the numbers still aren’t equal to the population, it is important to note the growing rise of women on Capitol Hill, Goldman noted.
“We are incredibly focused on thinking about how we can engage women on every part of the political process,” she said. “There are a lot of ways for women to have an impact.”
Lisa Sherman, who has worked in various political positions for about 16 years, said she has seen a rise in top female aides on Capitol Hill, particularly among younger women.
Sherman, who currently serves as chief of staff to Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), said that shift is visible in Davis’ office.
“Whenever we have a job opening in our office, we get a lot more women applying,” she said. “It’s actually harder for us to find men.”
Stacey Leavandosky, chief of staff to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), echoed those sentiments. Many of the older female chiefs, who have served on Capitol Hill for decades, have helped their younger colleagues, she said.
“Stepping back, the reason that I look at why I’ve been able to excel ... it’s been those female chiefs of staff who have mentored me,” she said.
And it’s important for women to get involved, Leavandosky noted.
“Different types of questions are being asked, questions that are more likely debated and thought about,” she said. “It brings [together] everyone that needs to have a stake in our country.”
Elizabeth Stanley, chief of staff to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), said it is important to note the study found many male Members hired female chiefs.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.