The Persistent Glass Ceiling in Politics

What is the political glass ceiling?

Over the last several decades, the participation of women in the political sphere has increased dramatically. Within the 2020 election cycle alone, 43 percent of political donors were women (the highest percentage on record), 298 women were candidates for the US House of Representatives including 115 women of color, and Kamala Harris was elected as the first female Vice President. Additionally, voter turnout among women has steadily increased and women of color and suburban white women have served as key voting demographics electing Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 [1]. 

Cultural norms about women’s place within society have also continued to evolve with an increasing level of access to higher education for women and an overall higher female presence within the workforce. Within the political sphere, redistricting and changing voter demographics have provided opportunities for women’s entry into the holding political office increasingly accessible for women [2]. 

While it appears as though entry into politics is becoming more equal and more women are able to compete for the same seats that men have held for centuries, women continue to face barriers that male colleagues and male candidates never have to consider. Many women in politics demonstrate the challenges of the political glass ceiling within the campaign sphere and, even after attaining office. 

1. Al Jazeera, "US Vote 2020: Why Women Decide Elections," US & Canada | Al Jazeera, November 01, 2020,  accessed November 30, 2020,

2. Palmer, Simon. Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling: Women and Congressional ElectionsBreaking the Political Glass Ceiling. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2008.

Figure 1. Women US Congress. Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University. In Accessed December 6, 2020.

Figure 2. Wilson, Mark. Democratic Women in the 113th Congress. Getty Images. In USA Today. January 03, 2013. Accessed December 6, 2020.

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