No women represent Allegheny County in the Pennsylvania state legislature, and only 18 percent of the state seats are filled by women at all. The situation is more than a diversity problem, argued Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner. She called it a crisis. As a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, she’s advocating for more women to run for office, to improve the political process and better reflect the actual demographics of the Commonwealth.
So why aren’t women more represented in state political offices?
Wagner said some of the complexity of winning depends on which offices women run for, combined with the power of incumbencies of those they are running against.
“I think one aspect of this is that women aren’t always running for the open seats, or for the seats that are more likely to produce a victory,” Wagner said.
She also argued that having an all-male legislature is not reflective of today's society. She said that when she speaks to children in schools about government and legislation, she finds that children report the woman of the house is more likely to make household budgets.
In regards to the budget impasse facing state legislation, Wagner argues that having a female presence may have changed the entire ordeal. She said studies show women are better at building a consensus and said she believes women do better in political races.
“For a while, it has been shown that women candidates do run better than male counterparts, if you make everything else equal, and that people tend to trust women more,” Wagner said.
Another issue Wagner said women face, is the idea of an “old boy’s network,” where experienced men mentor younger men to help them obtain positions in government.
“I don’t think it’s ill-intended, but culturally, it is really just calling out for a change," she said.
In order to improve female representation in legislation, Wagner challenged women to get started in politics, by taking charge and making a name for themselves in local government. She argued that women need to change the system in order to see progress. She also said mentorship among women is vital for increased representation.
“I don’t think it (the system) is ever going to change itself, unless we really wake up and look at that," she said.
Wagner said that she's encouraged by organizations like the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, and other groups that train and support women running for politics. Political party aside, Wagner said it’s important for women to promote each other. Currently three women have announced their candidacy for upcoming elections.
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