Critical Mass

Women Now Make Up 25.3% of State Legislative Bodies, Have We Reached Critical Mass?

The end of 2017 saw women elected officials reach a historic milestone; women now make up 25% of state legislative bodies nationwide. In just one year, women gained 38 seats; an increase of 2.1% from 2016 according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). There has not been a significant percentage increase in the number of women holding state legislative seats in the last 5 years. Is this a sign of the tides turning? Has electing women reached a critical mass?

The theory of critical mass or sociodynamics refers to a sufficient number of people accepting an idea in society so that the rate of acceptance becomes self-sustaining and creates growth into the future. Throughout 2017, we saw more and more women believing that they could run for office and actually taking the steps to put themselves in races and many of them went on to win those races. As a result of these successes, can we say that we’ve reached critical mass? At this juncture it seems critical mass is a direction that our nation is moving toward. The 2018 midterm elections will be an indicator as to how much further we will still have to go to reach the “self-sustaining” idea behind the theory of critical mass in order to have continued growth into the future and not plateau or lose momentum.

In her book, Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works, published in 2016, Jay Newton-Small states that “between 20 percent and 30 percent, women really begins to change an institution, whether it’s a legislature or a corporate board, a Navy ship or an appellate court.” Therefore, reaching 25% of woman-held seats in state legislative bodies is very significant. We have seen over and over that women can and are effective at bringing changes in policy, both in the private sector and in government. In steering closer to a critical mass of women elected officials, it is important to note that even though not every state legislature across the country has reached 20-30% women, there are many that have. In fact, Arizona, Vermont and Nevada lead the country in having the highest percentage (40%) of women serving in their respective chambers (CAWP). This continued increase in gender diversity amongst legislatures will ensure diversity of perspectives at the table when it comes to making critical decisions to move our country forward.