The City Councils Where Women Are Least Represented

New York City prides itself on being the epicenter of progressive politics -- and yet, it has one of the nation's worst gender gaps in city politics.
by | August 24, 2017
Members of the New York Cit Council
New York City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, left, says "I see this as the beginning of the conversation. What we want to do now is build on that, to educate and to mentor." (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

New York City may pride itself on being the epicenter of progressivism, but a new report shows it has one of the nation's worst gender gaps in politics.

The study, released on Thursday by the New York City Council, compares the city council's representation of women to other major cities in the nation.

Out of the country’s 10 most populous cities, only Los Angeles and Houston have fewer women on their councils than New York. There’s only one woman on the Los Angeles City Council (out of 14), and Houston has four (out of 16). New York has 13 (out of 51).

Phoenix and San Diego lead the pack, with women respectively making up 50 and 44 percent of their councils.

 

(New York City Council)

 

The report comes at a time when there’s unprecedented interest among women in running for political office -- a trend that gained momentum after Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election. Emily’s List, a group that fundraises for pro-choice Democratic women, and She Should Run, a nonpartisan organization that recruits and trains women to run for office, have reported that nearly 15,000 women have expressed interest in running for office since the election. She Should Run is also working to encourage 250,000 women to run for office by 2030.

The New York City Council’s female representation hasn't always been this bad. During the 2000s, up to 18 women were on the council at one time. The study projects that if the downward trend continues, just nine women will sit on the council in the term ending in 2021.

“That’s the most disheartening part for me," says Helen Rosenthal, a New York City councilwoman. "We’re going in the wrong direction.”

The New York City Council isn’t the only one bringing awareness to gender disparities in politics. The Pittsburgh City Council launched a Gender Equity Commission in December to look at ways to reduce gender disparities across all city departments.

Research shows that when women do run for elected office, they win in equal numbers to men. But cultural barriers -- such as the fact that women still do a disproportionate amount of household work -- prevent women from pursuing public office at all. There are unconscious biases, too: Men are 65 percent more likely to consider themselves qualified to run for office, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.

But by having this conversation, Rosenthal is encouraged that equity can be achieved by the 2021 elections for city council. The women’s caucus, she says, is now committed to building training and mentorship programs for New York City women. She says she’s already had a few women in recent months shadow her in government.

“We’ve said very publicly that this is a problem," she says. "I see this as the beginning of the conversation. What we want to do now is build on that, to educate and to mentor."