Is it the Driver, or is it the Road?

By Political Parity on May 20, 2014

Women’s political underrepresentation is not a new concept. In fact, despite a record number of women serving in Congress, we still have yet to crack 20 percent as a nation; only 5 women serve as governor, and not a single woman has served in the White House in our 238 year history.

Recently, the focus has been on women themselves. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in their new book, The Confidence Code, cite numerous studies that point that confidence as the leading factor holding women back from leadership positions. In the political realm, Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox declare that women are less likely than men to seek elective office; stating that women have less political ambition than do men.

But what if self-doubt is just the symptom of a larger problem? Elizabeth Plank (in PolicyMic) focuses her spotlight squarely on the road itself, rather than the woman trying to navigate it. She offers a list of structural barriers, such as lack of paid maternity leave, and the elevation of “male” rather than “female” leadership traits.

For several years, Political Parity has worked to understand and address the persistent gender gap in high-level political candidacies. Why, we wonder, are men still so much more likely to declare themselves candidates for office, especially those of House, Senate, or Governor?

Our new report, “Shifting Gears,” concludes that the confidence-versus-structures debate sets up a false choice. Both the driver and the road matter to any journey. In particular, the driver’s perception of whether she will face smooth road conditions or endless detours and delays influence both her route and destination.

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore in greater depth the onramps and potholes affecting women’s road to higher office, with additional strategies for change that offer us hope in reaching gender parity in elected office. As we do, we’d love to hear your thoughts! The conversation continues online at #ShiftingGears on Twitter, or at