Survey finds women are underrepresented across California governments

Survey finds women are underrepresented across California governments
From left, Los Angeles Councilwoman Nury Martinez Sheila Kuehl and Torie Osborn at an election night party in June. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Women are vastly underrepresented in government at all levels in California, occupying fewer than 30% of elective city, county and state posts, according to a recent survey.

Females are more strongly represented on school boards: They are 47% of all members on the state's 965 boards, the study found. But just 25% of county supervisors and 28% of city council members across the state are female.


In Sacramento, women make up 28% of the Legislature, according to the study, released last week by the Leadership California Institute. Researchers examined all 58 counties and nearly 500 cities, in addition to the school boards, to assess the standing of women in government.

Local government experience often is a steppingstone for women seeking higher office. According to the report, three-quarters of females in the Legislature first served on a county, city, school or community college board.

That finding shows why it is necessary to get women elected on the local level, said Paula Treat, president of the Leadership California Institute.

"We've got to make sure we've got a deep enough bench," said Treat, a Sacramento-based lobbyist.

The disparity is particularly stark in Los Angeles, where there is one female official, Councilwoman Nury Martinez from the San Fernando Valley, compared with 15 men.

"In a city as large as Los Angeles, for me to be the only woman — it isn't only disappointing but embarrassing," Martinez said, adding that there are plenty of viable candidates.

"The women are there," she said. "They're capable, they're just not in the pipeline."

Fourteen percent of California cities had no women at all in elected office. Some areas, including El Dorado County and the city of Oakland, had females in more than half of elective posts.

The study, conducted by GrassrootsLab, a consulting firm with offices in Sacramento and Long Beach, found no single factor — such as urban versus rural environments or an area's party bent — accounting for either strong or weak representation.

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), who sat on the Modesto City Council before joining the Legislature in 2010, said the findings underscore how women may approach political involvement differently from men.

"I never thought about running for City Council, ever, until somebody called me and asked me if I would consider it," said Olsen, the incoming Assembly Republican leader. "As women, we wait to be asked and invited to the table before we do things."

She said it's up to female politicians to serve as examples.

"We need to work really hard ourselves — getting out there, telling our stories, recruiting other people to run for office, showing them how we can be successful," Olsen said.

Twitter: @melmason