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Government and Politics

Research Reveals New ‘Pathway to Power’ for Congresswomen

By Adrienne Frank

 Researchers at AU’s Women and Politics Institute have identified a key “pathway to power” for women in Congress: involvement in student government.

According to the WPI study of women currently serving in the U.S. Congress, 53.7 percent of respondents served in some form of student government, in high school, college, or both.

“These statistics are significant to our understanding of the women entering the ‘political pipeline.’ Most pipeline research starts with state legislatures, but our original data indicate that student government is an important part of the profile of female holders of higher office,” said Barbara Palmer, interim director of the Women and Politics Institute, and author of Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling: Women and Congressional Elections.

Of the respondents, 55.6 percent served in their state legislatures. Of the women who served in student government, 37.9 percent did not go on to serve in their state’s legislature, making student government a unique pathway to higher office for women.

Several students participated in the research, including project manager Calina Ellwand, a Killam fellow from the University of Ottawa.

“Information like this is really, really hard to find,” she explained. “It’s not in [the congresswomen’s] bios and, often, it’s not even something their head staffers know.”

About 47 percent of women in the Senate and 63 percent of women in the House responded to the survey.

“The fact that we got the high response rate that we did is really remarkable,” added Palmer. “It’s a real testament to the people we had working on this project.”

Palmer and her team will continue their research in the fall, possibly examining the involvement in student government of congressmen.

The study’s findings were released May 6.