Congress’s demographics do not mirror America’s. There are a record number of women in office now — 102 total — but they account for just 18.8 percent of the entire Congress. Women make up nearly 51 percent of the entire U.S. population.
And in the House, men are at the helm — they chair all but one of the House’s 20 committees, and the one run by Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) is the House Administration panel, which is basically congressional housekeeping. So it’s perhaps little surprise that the Sunlight Foundation discovered a dramatic discrepancy between the number of men and women called to testify as witnesses before all the House committees.
So far in the 113th Congress, 23 percent of the more than 5,000 witnesses were women, according to Sunlight’s analysis.
“What do you expect from a Majority that had zero female committee chairs until they were shamed into appointing a woman to chair the Admin committee?” a Democratic aide told the Loop.
But it’s possible that this is a more pervasive problem than a Republican one.
The public and private sectors do a poor job of appointing women to the top-level positions that are typically called upon to testify before Congress. President Obama has been criticized for not appointing more women to high-level Cabinet positions. And while, like Congress, there are more female CEOs than ever, they make up less then 5 percent in the S&P 500 companies.
Kelly Dittmar, a professor at Rutgers University’s Center for Women and Politics, keeps track of women appointed to cabinet-level positions. She said the dearth of women in top jobs is part of the problem, but she wasn’t so quick to let the Republicans off the hook. The under-representation of women at the top of the congressional committee rosters exacerbates the problem, she said, because the men in charge might not notice the inequity.
“Are they looking to see if there is a woman who might bring a different perspective to the table?” Dittmar said. “I would be cautious in saying there aren’t women who could do these things, but are the committees making an effort to find them?”
Dittmar said there are even deeper implications, suggesting that the staffers who choose expert witnesses are the same who are calling on experts for advice on shaping policy. “You want women represented in those conversations in the background as well as the forefront,” she said.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the highest ranking GOP female in the House as head of the House Republican Conference, told the Loop in an e-mail that women “have proven to be an invaluable asset to the legislative and committee processes; they add an important perspective to the negotiation table; and they are seen as effective legislators and good listeners.”
She said the Sunlight Foundation report “highlights the need to bring more women to Congress in all capacities.”
Maybe they’ll do better in the 114th.