Marking a milestone

California lags behind neighboring states when it comes to percentage of political offices held by women

May marks the 100-year anniversary of women serving in the California Legislature.

The Public Policy Institute of California recently hosted a special event to commemorate the milestone, one that included a forum on the importance of gender diversity in the state house. At the start of the afternoon, PPIC board member Maria Blanco recalled the first wave of tough, legislative ladies who broke California’s political glass ceiling in 1918. It was four women who walked up the marble steps that day. However, those candidates’ fire and enthusiasm has not always been matched in recent times.

“The number of women in the California legislature is at its lowest since 1998,” Blanco noted. “There are only nine women in the Senate out of 40 senators, and 19 women in the Assembly out of 80 Assembly members.”

These numbers mean California has a lower percentage of women in state office than Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona.

“So, while we’re here to celebrate, I think we’re also here to encourage women to participate,” Blanco stressed.

Another speaker was Toni Atkins, the first female president pro tem of the California State Senate. During a conversation with PPIC President Mark Baldassare, Atkins said the tide of women getting involved is now coursing back in the right direction.

“I see more women running,” Atkins observed. “But studies still show us that women shy away from running for a lot of reasons.” … But we see both men and women in the legislature now who are younger, with families, and they’re finding ways to make it work.

The pro tem added, “ All of the great young women I meet are working hard on an issue. Great, follow your heart, do something you believe in, get engaged, be part of it; but then seriously think, ‘Could I be someone to be appointed, elected or run?’ … That will change the culture—being represented.”