An Up(Hill) Climb for Women on Congressional Staffs | Commentary

written by On April 9, 2014 in 2010-2016, Congress, WIIS Blog, Women

By Jolynn Shoemaker

As political pundits and campaigns ramp up for the 2014 midterm elections, the media is focusing again on the female vote and female candidates. There is good reason for the attention on women. The 2012 elections brought more women than ever before into the halls of Congress. Even at a relatively paltry 18 percent, female participation is now at record-breaking levels for Congress. In 2012, exit poll results showed that women accounted for 53 percent of voters, showing that the female vote is a key determinant for winning an election in America today.

While the spotlight shines on female candidates and office holders, little is known about the state of women’s participation as key advisers to congressional leaders. Behind every member of Congress and every congressional committee are the staffers who wield tremendous power — formulating policy positions, drafting legislation and keeping their bosses informed on the key issues.

The number of women in Congress tells just part of the story about women’s advancement in American politics.

A new report by Women In International Security — an organization that supports women’s equal participation in international peace and security careers — provides a peek behind the curtain of congressional offices with a sampling of the views and experiences of women working on foreign policy and national security portfolios. The report shows that despite an increasing number of women on the Hill, key national security portfolios, such as national defense and intelligence, remain male-dominated. The study also points to the propensity for male staffers to advance further and faster than their female counterparts. For example, women still occupy less than 50 percent of chief of staff positions in either chamber of Congress. The disparity translates in considerable salary inequities. On average, female House staffers earn $5,863 less than their male counterparts and female Senate staffers earn $7,278 less.


To read the rest of this article, see Roll Call. Click here to see the new WIIS report.


Jolynn Shoemaker is the author of “Women in Peace and Security Careers: U.S. Congressional Staffs” and a previous WIIS report, “Women in Peace and Security Careers: U.S. Executive Branch.” She is a Non-Residential Fellow at SIPRI North America and CSIS. She was director of Women in International Security (WIIS) from January 2006 – January 2013. Before joining WIIS, she worked for the Institute for Inclusive Security, an organization dedicated to increasing women’s participation in peace processes. Ms. Shoemaker has served in policy and legal positions in the U.S. government. She worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, focusing on the Balkans region. She also worked as an attorney in the General Counsel’s Office for International Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where she negotiated international agreements to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. 

Ms. Shoemaker was a Presidential Management Fellow in the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, where she was responsible for monitoring human rights and asylum issues in Africa. She holds a J.D. and an M.A. (security studies) from Georgetown University and a B.A. from University of California at San Diego. She has published extensively on women, peace, and security and women’s leadership, and she is a member of the New York Bar, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a Truman National Security Fellow.