By Katie Ziegler
November’s election brought three new female legislators to the New Jersey Assembly—including Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, a Roller Derby-playing Republican from Marlton—but the total number of women serving in legislatures around the country has hardly changed from 2013.
Newly-elected New Jersey legislator Maria Rodriguez-Gregg
Women are 24.2 percent of all legislators nationwide. This percentage has grown by less than 2 percentage points in the last 15 years. Vermont and Colorado are (almost) tied for having the highest percentages of women in the legislature, with 41.1 and 41.0 percent. Louisiana and South Carolina have the smallest share of women serving, with just 11.8 and 12.9 percent female members.
There is little change in the number of women serving in legislative leadership, with 62 women in major positions around the country. Nine states have a female Senate president or president pro tem, and six states have a female speaker of the House. Oregon has the distinction of being the state that has had the most female speakers. Speaker Tina Kotek (D) is the state’s fifth, and she also leads the only chamber in the country with a female presiding officer and female majority leader (Representative Val Hoyle (D)).
Does it make a difference to have more women in the legislature and in leadership, and do women lead differently than men? Some studies have found that women in leadership positions and serving as committee chairs do exhibit leadership styles that are traditionally coded as “feminine.” That is, favoring collaborative and consensus-based conflict resolution, inclusivity, and process-oriented goals.
Katie Ziegler is program manager of NCSL's Women's Legislative Network Program.