Women in Congress Are More Bipartisan, Collaborative But Still Less Powerful

Though the increasing number of Congresswomen can be viewed as removing another shard in the glass ceiling, relatively few women have joined the leadership ranks of the 114th Congress.
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Women in Congress have proven they not only work more frequently with each other but also reach further across the aisle, passing more legislation in the Senate than their male colleagues, yet they still hold fewer leadership positions in the legislature.

This year, a record 104 women are serving in Congress -- the first time female legislators have held over 100 seats ever. Studying the past four sessions of Congress, insights from Quorum Analytics, a startup founded by two Harvard seniors, reveals this unprecedented female representation may increase legislative action as women in Congress collaborate more frequently with each other and come to more bipartisan agreements.

Though the increasing number of Congresswomen can be viewed as removing another shard in the glass ceiling, relatively few women have joined the leadership ranks of the 114th Congress. Senate women, 16 of whom are Democrats, noticeably lost a sizeable number of leadership positions when Republicans gained control of the legislative body -- women chaired nine of 20 committees last Congress, and now they lead just two. On the House side, though five women hold elected positions in the 10-member Republican leadership, only one woman leads a committee.

This lack of advancement in key roles is occurring despite the fact that women have out-performed their male colleagues in Congress along a number of metrics. Congresswomen have demonstrated greater collaboration with each other than their male counterparts. Since the 111th Congress, the average female senator cosponsored 6.29 bills with another female senator, whereas the average male senator cosponsored 4.07 bills with other males.

Further, women in the Senate have made more bipartisan deals with other women than their male colleagues in recent years. The average female senator cosponsored 171.08 bills sponsored by members across the aisle, while the average male senator cosponsored 129.87 bills with a sponsor from the opposite party.

The numbers proves what columnists and pundits have asserted--women in the Senate have succeeded in fostering a more bipartisan environment through efforts such as traditionally meeting for regular dinners. This openness to form personal relationships has translated into a willingness of female lawmakers to collaborate in Congress.

Though women in the House have not seen as strong of a trend, female Members still collaborate on legislation both in their own party and across the aisle more than their male colleagues. Female representatives cosponsored an average of 2.85 bills with another woman, while their male counterparts only cosponsored 1.67 bills with other Congressmen.

Still, women in Congress have seen positive outcomes as a result of their bipartisan efforts. Since the 111th Congress, female senators moved 4.88 bills out of committee and had 2.31 bills enacted on average, compared to the 3.24 bills their male colleagues brought out of committee and 1.57 bills enacted.

As it stands, even the highest elected female leaders in the country grapple with the same issue Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explored in a recent New York Times op-ed series -- it seems female legislators are team players making more tangible progress in bipartisanship and legislating than their male peers, yet they still struggle to achieve top positions within Congress. Women in leadership have proven competent over confident, yet the power imbalance persists even for some of the most influential women in the country.

As the highest number of Congresswomen ever begins their terms, this Congress has the potential to be more active than the last based on the data. Moreover, if women who have already demonstrated a commitment to bipartisanship were honored with leadership positions, they might catapult Congress into an even more collaborative, progressive session.

--Jonathan Marks and Steven Kekacs contributed to the research in this story.

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