The 31% Difference: Why We Need More Women (and More Effective Policymaking) in Congress

In the U.S., women are on average 31 percent more effective than men at advancing legislation, regardless of political party.

That's according to the Parity Project, which has more eye-opening statistics:

  • On average, women sponsor and co-sponsor more bills than do men and are able to enlist more co-sponsors.
  • Congresswomen deliver 9 percent - or roughly 49 million - more per year in federal programs to their home districts than do congressmen.
  • Women across the political spectrum are more likely than their male counterparts - of either party - to prioritize issues affecting women, families, and children on their legislative agendas.
  • Regardless of party affiliation, women have voted more consistently in favor of environmental protections and policies than men have over the past 25 years in both the House and Senate.

Yet in light of the last few weeks' Capitol Hill chaos and its painful resolution, the statistic I return to is 31 percent. American women, who make up less than one-fifth of our legislative body (Center for American Women and Politics), are nearly one-third more effective at governing the country.

That represents both a tragedy and an opportunity, both of which have been illustrated by members of the House and Senate themselves during the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis.

Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington) told her party, "It's time for our colleagues to face reality." In an interview with The Washington Post, Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida) called specifically for more women to run and be elected because in her experience, "women are much more willing to sit down and build consensus, and try to get to yes without really clobbering the other side and leaving them bloody." The New York Times profiled the efforts of Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and her female colleagues in reaching a solution to the crisis, writing that "in a Senate still dominated by men, women on both sides of the partisan divide proved to be the driving forces that shaped a negotiated settlement." CNN followed up the Times story with an interview with Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), who emphasized the collaborative spirit amongst the women of the Senate.

The tragedy is that the effects of the September-October crisis, both the tangible and intangible, could potentially have been avoided had we elected more women in public office. Had the American people elected more women to represent them, had more women run for office, had more women been trained and educated for electoral bids, had more girls been educated deliberately and intentionally for leadership: if all and any of these had happened, our national flirtation with economic disaster could quite possibly never have happened.

The opportunity, however, lies in the statistic as well: American women are thirty-one percent more effective at advancing legislation, across parties. If we elected more women to the halls of power, we could reasonably expect an increase in government functionality; an improvement in the quality of debate between those with different opinions; more collaboration and more courtesy and ultimately, more sustainable change for more people who need it. If those changes were made, we could potentially see an increase in the American people's faith in their governing body, and earn greater respect from nations abroad.

As a young American citizen and a women's college alumna, I believe in the opportunity that women's leadership presents because of my own experience. Wellesley College prides itself on educating women for global leadership. That larger goal is echoed in even the tiniest details of college life, where young women from all over the world take responsibility in matters ranging from dormitory noise to campus-wide policy. My Wellesley peers are neither passive nor heterogeneous: we bring our deeply-held and deeply-divided opinions to campus, and those differences cause conflict just as they do elsewhere.

However, in my experience, we work through those conflicts. We remain unwilling to leave someone behind simply because they disagree with us. We respect each other's differences because we know that ultimately, they add to our community; we know, too, that there is more than binds us than divides us. In working through those differences in dining halls and classrooms, we begin to lead with both courage and consensus.

I've met some of the smartest women in the world and I believe that if we elected them, and others like them, into public office, the world could really change for the better (and for statistics on that, see this infographic).

To say this is not to minimize the problems facing the current Congress, which are numerous and complex. Many, if not most, of our representatives and senators are hardworking men and women trying to do a difficult job well; many never receive the same attention from the press as their more ideological and stubborn colleagues.

So let's help them out. Let this crisis be a lesson to us, a call to action to improve Congress by electing more women in both parties, and let us see if a tragedy can become an opportunity to renew our trust in government.