Will More Women in the Congress Mean Things Get Done?
Posted by Kim Bayliss
Even before the historic results of the 2012 election were known, the role of women on Capitol Hill was on the rise. In the last Congress women had advanced to hold key leadership posts in the House and Senate. Women also serve as Chairmen or Ranking Member on numerous Congressional Committees and Subcommittees. California Senator Diane Feinstein heads the important Select Committee on Intelligence, for example. Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow chairs the Agriculture panel. Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz was tapped by President Obama to lead the Democratic National Committee. Perhaps just as important, more women are ascending the ranks on the staff level to hold influential senior positions as Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel. The chief of staffs to both Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer are women.
Despite the growing influence of women, it has not been enough to overcome all of the testosterone on Capitol Hill – until now.
The 113th Congress sworn in on January 3rdchanges the dynamic. Women now make up 20 percent of the Senate and 18 percent of the House. While the representation of women in the halls of Congress remains far below the 51 percent they comprise of the US population, it is more marked than the progress women are making in the corporate world, where fewer than five percent of Fortune 500 companies are headed by females. For the first time, the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee will be chaired by a woman: Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski. In fact more than one-third of all Senate Committees will be chaired by women in the 113th Congress, giving women a substantial say in setting the Senate’s legislative priorities.
Women lawmakers, as a voting bloc, may finally be reaching the tipping point of having the ability to substantially influence the Congressional agenda. The Democratic Women’s Caucus in the House is now 61 members strong and could wield considerable power. There is no greater evidence of that than the decision of Rep. Nancy Pelosi to remain as the Democratic Leader in the House. Flanked by the Democratic women members of Congress, Pelosi said it was important that she remain in the leadership to ensure that the priorities of her female colleagues for Congressional policies that improve the health of the economy and its citizens are promoted in a fair and balanced manner.
When asked, many of these women office holders believe that the most visible difference in the upcoming Congress will be an increased effort to find consensus and work across the aisle to solve the nation’s problems from spending to taxes and the environment. A recent survey by two leadership consultants confirms what many women know - that women excel in the factors that make great leaders. In fact, the study had women scoring better than men in 12 out of 16 of the competencies that comprise outstanding leadership. (Are Women Better Leaders Than Men? Harvard Business Review, March 15, 2012, by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman.)
With women holding senior positions on key Committees and in leadership it is possible they will be able to achieve the bipartisan consensus that has been so elusive until now.
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About the Author
Telephone: (+1) 202 484 4884
|Kim Koontz Bayliss is a Managing Principal at Dutko Grayling, specializing in telecommunications and technology issues.
Kim brings extensive experience and a unique understanding of the legislative process. Kim worked for nearly ten years in the office of the late Congressman Synar (D-OK), where she ended her tenure as the Congressman’s most senior aide, and oversaw all aspects of the Congressman’s legislative operation. As the Vice President of Government Relations for the United Video Satellite Group (now Gemstar-TV Guide in Washington, DC), Kim was the sole lobbyist representing the company on telecommunications and intellectual property issues before Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and the US Copyright Office.