Half of the United States’ population is comprised of women, yet female politicians make up less than twenty percent of all elected seats (Frederick, 2010). This is consistent at the local, state and national levels. As a result of this political gender gap, all of the brightest policy thinkers are not represented at the legislative table, yielding a limited scope of life experiences informing social policy. Moreover, studies have found that legislatures with more women are more likely to support policies that are compatible with social work values (Lane and Humphreys, 2011; Sanbonmatsu, 2002). Social work is a field that consists of mostly women and also advocates explicitly for civic engagement and participation in the crafting of public policy. Consequently, the social work profession is uniquely situated to eliminate the political gender gap in the United States.
Lane and Humphreys (2011) suggests that enhanced recruitment efforts of social workers into elected office have the potential to impact the demographic trajectory of political representation. However, women have to be asked six times before accepting an invitation to run for office while men often do not have to be asked (Kimmel, 2013). Most men think their political party equally encourages men and women while only a third of women reported feeling the same way (Sanbonmatsu, 2006). Herrick (2010) found that females are more likely to enter politics from community activities as opposed to a lifelong ambition. Lane and Humphreys (2011) studied social workers elected to office and found that most did not feel adequately prepared for their roles as elected officials.
Collectively, these findings suggest that targeted social work educational initiatives and strategic recruitment efforts among social workers could reduce the political gender gap significantly. Interdisciplinary collaboration among schools of social work with political science departments, women’s studies departments, local and state political organizations and national organizations focused on reducing the political gender gap will strengthen the network of support, recruitment technologies and preparation of women considering a run for office. National social work organizations could partner with other national organizations such as the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, the National Organization of Women and the Center for Women in Politics seeking opportunities to advance the engagement and recruitment of social workers as political leaders. Furthermore, the use of multimedia outlets highlighting the underrepresentation of women has been found to result in more support for female candidates (Sanbonmatsu, 2003), therefore the utilization of social media and other virtual tools throughout social work networks to ensure social workers are informed about political issues and about women’s underrepresentation will serve as a mechanism for engagement, recruitment and increased electability of more women in political office. The objectives of this grand challenge will be measurable by the increased number of women running for office, as a result of the strategies employed by social workers, outlined here.
Barbara Lee Foundation. (2013). http://www.barbaraleefoundation.org/wp- content/uploads/Turning-Point.pdf
Frederick, B. (2010). Gender and patterns of roll call voting the U.S. Senate. Congress & The Presidency, 37(2), 103-124. Herrick, R. (2010). Sex Differences in Constituent Engagement. Social Science Quarterly, 91(4), 947- 963.
Lane, S. & Humphreys, N. A. (2011). Social workers in politics: a national survey of social work candidates and elected officials. Journal of Policy Practice, (10), 225-244.Sanbonmatsu, K. (2002, 2003, and 2006).