Silicon Valley is touted as being politically liberal or progressive. When issues of increasing minimum wage, sentence restructuring, medical marijuana, parental notification of abortions and same-sex marriage came before voters, almost always Silicon Valley voters have taken the more liberal position. Countless articles have been written that liberal Silicon Valley donors threaten G.O.P. campaigns and how Silicon Valley republicans remain “closeted” for their non-status quo and unpopular political and policy positions. Republican presidential nominees have lost every county in the Bay Area after the 1988 Presidential Election. But how does Silicon Valley contend in the gender lens of the equity of elected officials and democratic party leadership?
Women hold 42.2% of publicly elected offices in Santa Clara County with 202 women and 277 men total. Relatively speaking, Santa Clara County is doing fairly well; however, it certainly does not hold the title of “Feminist Capital of the Nation” it once did in the 1970s. The Santa Clara County Democratic Party gender balance of officers are almost offset with five out of 12 women officers (41.7%), but the democratic central committee voting members are at a low percentage of 26.4 being women. Just as cultural and ethnic diversity allows for distinct perspectives to be a part of the discussion, bringing women to the table of policy decisions fundamentally changes a conversation. While the topic of how women’s political participation shifts governance is important, this is a whole other matter that warrants an entirely new discussion. For an in-depth read, I would suggest Janet A. Flammang’s work Women’s Political Voice: How Women Are Transforming the Practice and Study of Politics.
Arguably, “the heart of Silicon Valley” consists of cities in both San Mateo County and Santa Clara County; although, for the purpose of this report, I have focused on Santa Clara County, specifically, the data from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. In Santa Clara County, city and county government hold poor records for the number of women in office. Women make up 31.2% of the 93 city council seats from the 15 cities in the county. Of the county seats for district attorney, sheriff, assessor and the five board of supervisors, only two out of all eight seats are held by women.
Special districts’ gender ratio is at 28.8% women with 21 seats of the 73 seats held by women. Special districts in general are more obscure to the community at large. Each district decides how to handle advertising of the open seats within the district. Perhaps it is time for them to create a different approach in raising awareness of their respective districts and their civic roles.
The county democratic party hardly focuses on judicial races and judicial candidates seldom reach out to local clubs for endorsements; however, I have elected to include their ratio in this piece because courts have the ability to deeply impact anyone who is involved in the justice system, and people in a lower socio-economic class are likely to have less control over and support with their legal matters. Female judges make up 43% of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, which is not split evenly but the ratio is higher than I had anticipated. Perhaps it can be attributed to the steady increase of the number of women in law in the U.S. since the 1970s and the fact that the number of women in law has been cruising just under 50% for the past ten years.
To finish on a good note, women seem to be notably more engaged in education policy. I could speculate that the reason for this is because mothers are personally invested in their children’s education or they value education equity in general as it heightens career mobility. Whatever the cause is, K-12 boards are slightly above the 50% threshold of women in office.
Lastly, the Santa Clara County Democratic Party welcomes the idea of holding itself accountable so I have presented the status of women in the party leadership. Women hold five of the 12 party officer seats, but it has challenges in electing more female central committee delegates in nearly all Assembly Districts. Only the 24th Assembly District rests at 50% female central committee voting delegates. Overall, women central committee voting members make up 26.4%. Even within the party, we face many challenges with gender parity.
Last year, Santa Clara County Democratic Party (SCCDP) passed a resolution on Equal Representation in Elected Office and the SCCDP’s Commitment to Improving the Status of Women in Santa Clara County. Among other items, the resolution created a Director role to be dedicated to this effort, and the party committed itself to doubling the number of Democratic women in local elected and appointed office in Santa Clara County by the year 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Women’s Right to Vote. The Committee on Gender Equity and Status of Women was formed to achieve the party and director’s goals. The next piece to be published will list all of the upcoming open seats within Santa Clara County with details on office term lengths and limits. The Santa Clara County Office of Women’s Policy will be releasing data on the gender ratio of women on county boards and commissions. In partnership with the National Women’s Political Caucus of Silicon Valley (NWPC-SV), Silicon Valley Young Democrats (SVYD), Silicon Valley Latino Democratic Forum, Peninsula Democratic Coalition (PDC), Peninsula Young Democrats (PYD), and Silicon Valley Asian Pacific American Democratic Club (SVAPADC), the committee and Democratic Activists for Women Now (DAWN)hosted an event on March 18, 2015 on Advancing Women in Politics. Keep your eyes peeled for the next post, upcoming events and resources for women entertaining the idea of being more civically engaged.
Author’s note: This piece was prepared for the DAWN (Democratic Activists for Women Now) May newsletter and the Santa Clara County Democratic Party Committee on Gender Equity and Status of Women quarterly report. Research on local elected office was conducted by Hannah Holloway, Anna Ko, Umika Kumar. For a report on the gender balance of state and federal lawmakers see Gender Parity in the U.S. and California Legislature.