'Few but mighty': Female lawmakers outdo men in Pa., study says

Pennsylvania Budget
In Harrisburg, men dominate, but women are getting it done, study shows.

Their numbers might be paltry, but by any measure Pennsylvania’s female legislators are holding their own — and then some — in the male-dominated halls of Harrisburg.

Women also tend to be more collaborative and more likely to promote bills related to women’s issues, such as protecting victims of domestic violence, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.

“By all the measures we examine within this report, the women legislators in the General Assembly could aptly be described as few, but mighty,” it said.

Women had 9.7 percent of their sponsored bills signed into law, compared with 9 percent of the men’s bills during the 2013-14 legislative term, which was the period studied.

Examining the total of 3,800 bills in the session, it also found female legislators had an average of 18.2 cosponsors on their bills, compared with male colleagues, who had an average of 17.1 cosponsors.

Women held only 44 of the 253 seats in both chambers during the session, or 17 percent. They now occupy 48 seats.

The study, released in May, cautioned that rating legislator effectiveness by number of bills passed and signed into law isn’t perfect; legislators’ seniority can impact their effectiveness. Additionally, party matters.

But women interviewed for the study said that their female colleagues “were more likely to shop their legislation” — or their ideas — “around to legislators who might be more successful in passing it.”

“I’m always of the mind that I just want somebody to get it done,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Montgomery).

Additionally, researchers found that, similar to female legislators elsewhere, women in the state’s General Assembly sponsor more bills concerning women’s issues, such as protecting victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, expanding family leave, and promoting gender equality. However, many female lawmakers are quick to note that they serve all their constituents and don’t want to be labeled as caring about only one set of issues.

“I think that women do look at some of the issues that are relevant to women and families. But they will take up other issues, too,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D., Berks), who has served in the state Senate since 2011.

“The big takeaway is: What if we had more women?” said Dana Brown, executive director of the political center at Chatham. “Could we not be more collaborative? Could we not move the ball forward on certain policy issues?”

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.