We live in a diverse country. Although, you wouldn’t know that just by looking at Congress or any elected body for that matter. If the U.S. Congress had more women elected to it, we feel that it would affect the legislative process … for the better.
A more representative body would not only enhance debate but it would also lead to a wider variety of solutions, and potentially bring a different tone to a legislative body that while ideologically diverse, is still dominated by a largely homogeneous demographic.
The current Congress is 80 percent white compared to 63 percent for the total population; 80 percent male compared to slightly less than 50 percent for the total population; and 92 percent Christian versus 76 percent. While the differences in the representative demographics is uneven for all these categories, the dramatic difference in female representation versus the actual ratio of men to women in the general population provides the legislative process with a skewed reality.
Take the issue of women’s reproduction rights. While there is nothing wrong with any of those characteristics independently, it’s a real problem when we’re talking about the health-care choices of women across the country. Aside from the controversial issue of abortion services, there are many who would restrict women’s access to birth control and other family-planning services. Having a more representative number of women in Congress would really change the tone of the debate.
How about other issues that affect not only women but families in general? Would the United States continue to lag behind other countries in providing for parental and family leave if the number of women serving in Congress more closely mirrored the population? Would women continue to lag behind men in pay making more than 20 percent less than their male counterparts? Would violence and judicial discrimination against women have decreased? Would the minimum wage, a wage largely affecting women, be raised above its current levels to better reflect a living wage?
What about other issues that are not traditionally seen as women’s issues? War? Poverty? Racial Discrimination? Concentration of wealth? Income inequality?
It is hard to imagine that a good part of these problems would be seen differently by more representative representation. Political and ideological stalemates might not materialize in the same old way. New and better solutions might be seriously debated and acted upon.
In many ways, it boils down to approach. According to a study released in January by the Pew Research Center, 25 percent more respondents thought that women were better at working out compromises than men. Compromise is something that’s rare these days in Washington as well as state and local legislatures. The same study found sizable gaps giving women higher scores in honesty, 30 percent higher than men, and in working to improve quality of life, 21 percent higher.
A series of studies has also shown that women tend to be more collaborative in their approach to work. Another set can be found that highlight the differences in how men and women listen, giving women the advantage over men when it comes to deeper listening and connection to the message.
Why do these traits matter within the context of the legislative process? The current legislative process is often locked into corners with each corner listening only for what they already believe or “know” about an issue. This makes collaboration and compromise virtually impossible.
A lack of listening and a lack of familiarity not only limit exposure to competing thoughts but also limit exposure to the people behind those thoughts. Relationships, even with those having differing views, have long been the foundation for collaboration and compromise. Some of the most successful legislative victories leading to the most successful policies were not reached in the corners of ideological debate but by friends with differing opinions willing to listen to each other, come out of their corners and work out solutions.
If women possess a greater ability to listen, to build relationships and to use those skills to collaborate, as studies suggest and confirm, then we should want more women serving in Congress as well as other elected bodies. We also should want the men serving in representative roles to embrace these differences to enhance the overall effectiveness of the legislative process.
Having a more balanced Congress would change the legislative process, and that change would be to actually legislate more effectively.
Don Kusler is national director of Americans for Democratic Action (www.adaction.org). Readers may send him email at email@example.com. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.