New lawmakers hire few women for top staff posts ON THE POLITICAL SCENE

SISTERHOOD WELL-CLOAKED IN CONGRESS

March 27, 1993|By Bob Drummond | Bob Drummond,Congressional Management Foundation study and telephone survey of freshman congresswomen; JEF DAUBER/STAFF GRAPHICContributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- Last year's much-ballyhooed political "Year of the Woman" promised to break down the doors to the male-dominated cloakrooms of Congress. Yet the historic influx of female lawmakers has done little to crack the so-called "glass ceiling" that bars many women from top congressional staff jobs.

In fact, despite all the hoopla about chasing stereotypes from the halls of Congress, when it comes to advancing the careers of working women on Capitol Hill, initiates to the emerging old girls' network of lawmakers have done little better than the traditional old boys' club they vowed to dismantle.

Only one of every three new women in the House of Representatives -- and only one of four freshman female senators -- hired a woman as administrative assistant or chief of staff to run her congressional office, according to a telephone survey of the new members.

Among three positions considered the most prestigious and best-paying on Capitol Hill -- administrative assistant, legislative director and press secretary -- the newly elected congresswomen and senators hired women for about four of every 10 jobs.

"I'm really surprised," said first-term Rep. Karan English, D-Ariz., who picked women for all three top jobs in her Washington office. "I would have thought there would be more. I got so many resumes from women that I had to make sure I had a few men on my staff."

On the other side of the Capitol, the four new women in the Senate placed a higher proportion of women in prestigious staff jobs, hiring female aides for seven of the 12 highest positions.

But in filling the top positions in their offices -- chiefs of staff or administrative assistants -- three of the four senators hired men.

In fact, only California's Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer -- and only two of the 24 new female House members -- matched the performance of beleaguered Oregon Republican Sen. Bob Packwood by filling all three top Washington jobs with women. Mr. Packwood is fighting for his political life against demands that he resign because of allegations about inappropriate behavior toward women.

Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, who has one woman among her top three Washington aides, said voters expected the sisterhood of new female lawmakers to improve prospects for working women.

"I understand the expectation," she said. "We came because we wanted change, and there are a lot of capable women out there. I think it's a fair expectation that we'd do more."

The last congressional campaign was marked by an angry sentiment among many female voters, who had watched the Senate's handling of sexual harassment allegations during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings

and seen evidence of insensitivity to many problems facing women.

But after rallying to the cry that many congressmen don't understand the challenges of working women, the winners of last year's gender clashes have assembled senior staffs that, in most cases, look similar to the male-dominated staffs of the old Congress.

The 24 new congresswomen in the House, for instance, hired eight women and 16 men for their top Washington staff positions, which carry titles of administrative assistant or chief of staff.

Female aides did better at snaring jobs as legislative directors, capturing fully half of the positions filled by new congresswomen, compared with 34.7 percent for the entire House a year ago. But their prospects as press secretaries fell slightly: Women got 42.1 percent of the jobs offered by newly elected female House members, down from 45.6 percent for the House as a whole in 1992.

Ms. English said she thought many of the women, because they were new to Capitol Hill, wanted to hire top aides with long experience and found the pool of candidates was heavily weighted toward men.

But she said that was not an excuse.

"Lack of experience is always the argument used to keep women out," she said. "I think we have to give women an opportunity to gain the experience in these jobs."

WOMEN'S STAFF

CHIEF OF STAFF

HOUSE MEMBERS IN 1992... ... ... ...NEW HOUSE MEMBERS IN 1993

33.9% ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. ... 33.3%

LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR

34.7% ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...50%

PRESS SECRETARY

45.6% ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...42.1%

TOTAL TOP STAFFERS

37.6% ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...41.3%

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