Even with a woman wielding the speaker’s gavel, Washington can still feel like the old boys’ club it once was.
Consider the top leadership offices in the House and Senate. Women run just two out of 17: those of House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio and House Democratic Caucus Co-Chairman Xavier Becerra of California.
While Congress has mostly sloughed off its reputation as an unruly domain for cigar-smoking skirt-chasers, female staffers complain that the clubby atmosphere of congressional offices — and its after-hours equivalent in Capitol Hill bars — still makes it easier for men to climb the career ladder. And some are frustrated that Congress hasn’t done more as an institution to make the ascent to top staff jobs more even.
“Congress has a terrible track record” when it comes to elevating women to the top jobs, said Stacy Mason, the executive director of WomenCount, a group established after Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic presidential primary.
Republican staffers are particularly dissatisfied with the lack of gender parity among aides on their side of the aisle.
“Are there powerful Republican women? Yes,” said one senior GOP aide. “But there’s also a men’s club. To say it’s frustrating would be an understatement.”
Some even suggest the gap — however real — might hurt the GOP as the party struggles to rebuild its brand. “If the party is going to effectively communicate to women, it just makes sense to have more women around the decision-making table,” one former top GOP aide said.
Democrats give themselves higher marks for promoting women to top jobs, but many acknowledge room for improvement. To that end, four women launched the Women’s Congressional Staff Association last summer to build a network of female peers on Capitol Hill. The bipartisan group has since swelled to more than 100 members, and founders would like to someday see a member in every office.
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