Women remain significantly underrepresented among elected officials in the U.S. – only 17% of Congress is made up of women. But this year a record number of women are running for seats in both the House and Senate. Moderated by Pamela Stone, this panel explored perspectives on why there are still so few women in American politics, as well as current and future efforts to address this critical gender gap.


Letitia JamesDistrict 35 Council Member for New York City (Working Families Party)

Karen O’Connor, Founder and Director Emerita of the Women & Politics Institute at American University

Marie Wilson, founder and President Emeritus of The White House Project, former President of the Ms. Foundation, and author of Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World

Moderated by Pamela Stone, Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center and author of Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home.


Letitia James  District 35 Council Member for New York City

During her law career, James served as a public defender for the Legal Aid Society and represented countless young individuals in the criminal justice system. In the administration of NYS Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, she was appointed the first Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Brooklyn Regional Office. In that capacity, she resolved hundreds of consumer complaints and investigated predatory lenders who prey on first-time homebuyers. She assisted the Civil Rights Bureau s investigation of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy and cracked down on firms engaged in deceptive business practices including violations of human rights, environmental laws and immigration scams.

James founded the Urban Network, a coalition of minority professional organizations that raises money and distributes college scholarships to inner city youth. She attended New York City public schools and CUNY’s Lehman College prior to Howard University Law School. She is completing her Master’s in Public Administration at Columbia University’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs.

During her first term at the Council, James has been extremely active in the community she serves, and it is not uncommon to run into her any day of the week throughout her district. She has also been involved in many legislative and policy victories at City Hall.

Karen O'Connor  Professor of Political Science and the Founder and Director Emerita of the Women & Politics Institute at American University

Karen O’Connor is the Jonathan N. Helfat Distinguished Professor of Political Science at American University, where she has taught since 1997. Before that, she was at Emory University holding joint appointments to the Political Science and School of Law. Along with Larry J. Sabato, she is the author of the best selling American Politics textbook in the U.S., now in its 13th edition. She is also an expert on the courts, women and politics, and interest group politics. O’Connor has headed the American Political Science Association’s Organized Research Section on Law and Courts twice. She has also testified before both the House and Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittees on the Constitution on the issue of reproductive rights, an area in which she has published extensively. She has also staffed various members of Congress on women’s issues including Title IX.
She is also the founder and former director of the American University’s Women & Politics Institute, which she headed for 11 years, while also serving six years as editor of Women & Politics, and as the president of the APSA’s Organized Research section on Women and Politics. She has also served as president of the national and southern Women’s Caucus for Political Science. O’Connor is also the coauthor of the leading textbook on women and politics, now in its 5th edition. She is also the editor of several books on women and politics, most recently, the 2 volume Sage Handbook on Gender and Leadership, which contains over 100 commissioned chapters on a range of women’s leadership from pulpit to politics to professional sports.
O’Connor is also the past president of the National Capital Area Political Science Association and the Southern Political Science Association. At Emory University, where she taught from 1977-1995, she was the first woman in its history to receive the university wide teaching award. She was also American University’s Scholar/Teacher of the Year, the university’s highest honor. She has been honored by several associations as most outstanding woman in political science and public administration as well as by the Southern Political Science Association for her contributions to the discipline.
A graduate of SUNY Buffalo, where she received a JD and PhD, she was honored in 2010 as the Department of Political Science’s Most Outstanding Graduate, the first graduate student to receive that award.

Marie Wilson  Founder and President Emeritus of The White House Project

An advocate of women’s issues for more than 30 years, Marie is founder and President Emeritus of The White House Project, co-creator of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work ® Day, and author of Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World. In 1998, Marie founded The White House Project in recognition of the need to build a truly representative democracy – one where women lead alongside men in all spheres. Since its inception, The White House Project has been a leading advocate and voice on women’s leadership. Before she took the helm at The White House Project, Marie was, for nearly two decades, the President of the Ms. Foundation for Women. She is an honorary “founding mother” of the Ms. Foundation. In honor of her work, the Ms. Foundation has created The Marie C. Wilson Leadership Fund. Over the last thirty years, Marie’s accomplishments span becoming the first woman elected to the Des Moines City Council as a member-at-large in 1983, co-authoring the critically acclaimed Mother Daughter Revolution (1993, Bantam Books), and serving as an official government delegate to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China in 1995. She has been profiled in The New York Times “Public Lives” column, has appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, National Public Radio and other national programs and is quoted widely for her expertise.

Moderator: Pamela Stone  Professor of Sociology at Hunter College

Pamela Stone is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of CUNY and author of Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home. She is a fellow of Hunter’s Gender Equity Program, supported by NSF’s ADVANCE program, the goal of which is to promote women in science. An honors graduate of Duke University, Stone received her PhD in Sociology from Johns Hopkins University. In research currently underway with various collaborators, she is examining long-term trends in opting out and carrying out a cross-national comparison of the utilization of flexible work options.


  • Organization: Women & Politics Institute at American University (DC)

    The mission of the Women & Politics Institute is to close the gender gap in political leadership. We provide young women with academic and practical training that encourages them to become involved in the political process and facilitate research that enhances our understanding of the challenges women face in the political arena.

  • Report: Men Rule – the Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics

    A report by Jennifer L. Lawless, American University and Richard L. Fox, Loyola Marymount University, January 2012,
    Washington, DC: Women & Politics Institute

  • Organization: Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers – 2012 Project

    The 2012 Project is a national, non-partisan campaign of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures by taking advantage of the once-in-a-decade opportunities of 2012.

  • Report/Fact Sheet: Women in Congress 2012

    Prepared by the Center for American Women and Politics

  • Organization: The White House Project

    The mission of The White House Project is to ignite the leadership of women in business and politics. We connect, coach, and educate an ever-expanding alumnae network of 14,000 nationwide. With a focus on women age 21-35, we activate the ambition, creativity, and skills necessary for innovative and effective leadership.

  • Book: Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home.

    By Professor Pamela Stone.

    “A fascinating, fine-grained look at the real reasons why many professional women with children leave the workplace. Stone’s research and her well-written account make it clear that educated mothers aren’t opting out; they are being shut out by inflexible employers. Must reading for anyone interested in understanding the ‘reality of constraint’ behind the ‘rhetoric of choice.'” Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood

“We are the 17%!” A Panel on Women in American Politics | Posted on September 25th, 2012 | Faculty Public Programs, Public Programs, Road to November