Lecture delves into women’s effect on politics

Women and men turned out one week before Election Day to discuss the role of women in politics, from legislative seats to the executive suite.

As part of its “Run Up to the 2016 Election series,” the University of Iowa Public Policy Center hosted a lecture titled “The Effect of Women in Politics” Tuesday night in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber featuring *Time* political correspondent Jay Newton-Small.
“We’re really excited to talk about something that could become, in fact, quite relevant after the election and think about what the role is of women in government and how they change the outcome of government,” Associate Professor Tracy Osborn said, the director of the politics and policy research program in the UI Public Policy Center.

Newton-Small began her lecture by describing the backstory behind her book *Broad Influence*. She noted that women in the legislative branch played a particularly powerful role around 2013, when the government almost shut down.

By promoting collaboration despite the tension brought on by a gridlocked bipartisan government, Newton-Small, said women in politics at that time shattered the notion that the Senate was a “boys’ club,” making up 20 percent of the Senate and producing 75 percent of the legislation that became law during that period.

“You can’t have progress be one-sided,” she said. “It cannot just be dozens of Democratic women that are all working. They have to reach out across the aisle and have partners to work with.”

Iowa women formed a bipartisan organization called 50-50 in 2020 to solve this problem. The organization aims to increase the number of women represented in the state government, especially in a governor’s position, as well as allow women involved in politics to work together no matter their political party identification.

One of the organization’s co-heads, Jean Lloyd-Jones, a former member of the state Legislature, responded to audience questions with Newton-Small following the lecture.

Aside from the issue of looking beyond political polarization by working together with others, Lloyd-Jones and Newton-Small both emphasized that the low representation of women in politics stems from the way females are raised in American society.

“[Women] have been taught from babyhood that they’re not good enough,” Lloyd-Jones said.

She said men are used to building professional relationships, while women are less willing to speak publicly and truly take charge of their campaigns.

Figures such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton make many Americans so uncomfortable, Newton-Small said, because “we’re not used to hearing powerful women raise their voices.” She said she believes this will be problematic until there is a larger presence of women in politics, especially in the executive office.

Even at the UI, these attitudes have interfered with women’s willingness to take on leadership roles. During the panel, Donald Letendre, the dean of the College of Pharmacy, said he has observed that men grasp at leadership positions more readily than women, who he said seemed to express more incredulity at being offered opportunities for advancement.

Lloyd-Jones said, from her experience, women have problems asking for mentors when they need them and believe they need to know everything about a position before actually taking on the job. As for finding a solution for the problem, she was at a loss and instead charged Newton-Small with the task, eliciting laughter from the audience.

“You need to encourage women to help each other,” Newton-Small said.