A record number of women are now serving in Congress, statewide offices and state legislatures paving the way for even more women to run for political office in the future. In California, voters elected Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Controller Betty Yee and Treasurer Fiona Ma and increased the number of women serving in the state legislature from 29 to 35.
“One of the reasons why we saw more women getting elected, in my opinion in this cycle, is you had more women running,” said California Women Lead CEO Rachel Michelin. “And it becomes a numbers game. The more women you have on the ballot, the more opportunity you have to elect a woman.”
Yee agreed and said in the video above that she believes increasing the representation of women is not about parity for parity’s sake, but about making sure women are involved in the decision-making process.
Although women gained in the legislature, they still hold less than 30 percent of California’s legislative seats. And the gains were mostly made by one party, according to Michelin. “We saw an increase of Democrat(ic) women getting elected and women who ran for the first time who took out incumbents. On the flip side of the coin, we saw a decrease in the number of Republican women getting elected.” The difference between the two parties in the 2018 midterms was a nationwide trend according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
Women will have more opportunities to gain seats in the state legislature in the coming years. Redistricting will affect the 2022 election. And the 2024 election will be the first under the 12-year term limit structure, which will provide the opportunity to run for open seats.
As some barriers fall, others are cropping up that can keep women and increasingly men from seeking political office. In California, it may be more enticing to work for a private company in one of the urban or coastal areas than in politics in Sacramento. The other deterrent is a new one: the rise of social media. As Michelin explained, “It used to be the cost of running. Now it’s the negativity of politics and the fact that social media has really changed. People are saying, regardless of gender, ‘I don’t want to go there.’”
After 18 years of leading California Women Lead, Michelin is leaving the organization next month. As she looks back at her tenure at the organization, she’s proud of the work she’s done and hopeful about the future of women in state leadership positions.
“I think one of my greatest accomplishments is really working to get to 50 percent of appointees being women under the Brown administration,” said Michelin. “That had never happened before in the history of our state.”