Women in politics deterred by structural barriers, study finds

women in politics
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Issues around sexism and work-life balance contribute to the dearth of women in politics, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Zurich and published in Journal of Experimental Political Science under the title ‘Does exposure to gender role models increase women’s political ambition? A field experiment with politicians’, tested measures aimed at encouraging increased participation of young women in politics by exposing them to successful female role models. Student participants in the study completed online surveys gauging their political interest and ambition; after which randomly selected female participants were invited to a series of career workshops led by female politicians.

All participants were then invited to complete a secondary survey, aimed at evaluating their interest in a career in politics; and female participants were offered the chance to join a mentoring programme for young women considering politics as a career. Uptake was low across the female cohort, with no difference between the female students who had attended the career events and those who had not.

The report states: ‘Qualitative evidence from the workshops shows that politicians gave a candid assessment of the challenges women can expect to face when running for office. For instance, one politician emphasised that when she first took office, she was the only woman in the legislature who had small children and lived far from the capital. The same politician also presented herself as someone “with above average energy resources.” Moreover, another politician put considerable emphasis on the challenges women face when combining a demanding professional career with family life. This was a common thread in all workshops. Qualitative evidence collected during the workshops is consistent with findings from psychology and economics, showing that role models can fail to inspire if their achievements seem unattainable. If even women who are objectively successful face high barriers, then what would it be like for women who believe that they might not have the same degree of motivation and skills?”

Florian Foos, Assistant Professor of Political Behaviour in the Department of Government at LSE and co-author of the study, said: “The real underlying issue, of course, is structural. Women politicians still face higher barriers and expectations than men do. The disheartening implication is that if these role models talk truthfully about the challenges they face, younger women might conclude that politics is not for them. This points to the limitations of mentoring programmes and behavioural interventions that cannot address underlying gender inequalities, and frankly, the sexism, that women politicians have to deal with on an everyday basis.”


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