The Glass Ceiling for GOP Women

Republicans have trumpeted the rise of their party’s female candidates this election cycle, going so far as to brand 2010 “the year of the woman.” But within the ranks of the GOP itself, women still lag far behind in leadership positions in Congress. Politico reports:

Despite electoral gains in the lower ranks, women have had virtually no success penetrating the inner circle of the Republican congressional hierarchy.

There are already signs that Speaker-in-Waiting John Boehner (R-Ohio) is trying to do something — on Monday, the GOP created a special freshman leadership position, and the insiders’ pick for that job is rising star Kristi Noem of South Dakota.

But the gender numbers are still startling: There are 56 female Democrats in the current House, and there will be 51 in the new chamber. There are just 17 Republican women in the House, with at least seven joining the new majority — only about 10 percent of the Republican Conference. There will be one GOP House chairwoman in the new Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and one woman in the leadership ranks — Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who will keep the No. 5 slot as vice chairwoman.

To put it in other terms, the House GOP has managed to improve its percentage female members from 5.6 percent to 9 percent of the caucus. But, by comparison, Democratic women have gone from 22 percent to 25 percent of the caucus, coming significantly closer to achieving parity. Under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, moreover, Democratic women rose to key leadership and committee chair positions.

Republican women have often risen to the greatest prominence off Capitol Hill. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Mn), for instance, has amassed a huge popular following—and demonstrated her fundraising prowess—through the talk show and tea party circuit. But Rep. Jeb Hensarling has quashed her long-shot bid to join the House GOP leadership as conference chair. Sarah Palin’s career as the right’s most famous agitator really took off after she left the Alaska governor’s mansion. There are some signs of progress elsewhere, as Republicans Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Susana Martinez in New Mexico will become the first female governors of their respective states. But too often—in Washington, at the least—GOP women have yet to shatter the glass ceiling within their own party.