Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Moving on Up? the Gendered Ambitions of State-Level Appointed Officials

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Moving on Up? the Gendered Ambitions of State-Level Appointed Officials

Article excerpt

The political arena continues to be mostly populated by men. In 2014, less than 19 percent of Congress and less than a quarter of state legislatures were comprised of women. Only six governors were women, and fewer than 20 percent of statewide executives, such as secretaries of state, were female (Center for American Women and Politics [CAWP] 2014). The underrepresentation of women in politics even appeared in the 2012 presidential race. When asked what he would do about the wage gap between men and women, Mitt Romney said he was dedicated to including more women in the workforce, going so far as to question where the "binders full of women" were when trying to decide on candidates for political appointment within his gubernatorial administration. Lower numbers of women in public office means women may be unjustifiably excluded from political discussions and decisions.

Romney's "binders full of women," made to demonstrate how important it was to appoint more women to cabinet-level positions, reveals a political office that is rarely studied when we question women's representation. Scholars have focused almost exclusively on the nascent ambitions, or initial interests of women for elected office, or the progressive ambitions (the interest in pursuing higher public office) of current elected officials. Few ask why women enter into appointed office, or even if appointed office is a more attractive pathway into the political arena and up the political career ladder.

Because it is unknown how appointments factor into the female pipeline to public office, we do not know what affects that pathway, including whether or not the same variables affect the appointed pathway as well as the elected pathway. For example, how does a woman's perception of her capabilities, often different from a man's and a strong predictor of her interest in elected office, affect her ambition for an appointment? It is this disparity between self-perceived qualifications, known as gendered perceptions, Lawless and Fox (2005, 116) said is "the most potent explanation we uncovered for the gender gap in political ambition." No study focuses on the presence of gendered perceptions and their effects on the ambition for appointed office, or its effects on progressive ambition, despite the strong effect it has on the initial interest in elected office. Yet thousands of men and women are appointed at all levels of government, with thousands serving on the rarely studied statelevel boards alone.1 The most recent data indicate 35 percent of high appointees are women (Center for Women in Government and Civil Society [CWGCS] 2008). Given that the highest percentages of women in public office at the state level hold appointed and not elected office, this omission is significant in our understanding of gender and politics.

Using a unique data set of appointed officials drawn from the results of my State Political Pathways Survey, this article will show how progressive ambition among appointed women differs from their male counterparts, and from previously identified trends in progressive political ambition for elected office among women. I find that women in appointed positions have lower ambitions than men in appointed positions, mirroring the ambitions of women in elected office. That women in appointments continue to have lower progressive ambitions suggests a competitive environment may not be the only reason for women's lower ambitions. Furthermore, my findings show that it is the women who self-assess their abilities the highest who are the least progressively ambitious. This complicates the role of self-assessment in women's ambition. Put together, these two findings challenge the conventional wisdom that women are less ambitious because they do not like the competitive electoral environment and that women with more confidence in their abilities will automatically become more ambitious for public office.

Why Political Appointments?

Women in appointments are invisible when we focus on elected office alone. …

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