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Engaging More Women Bicyclists in the Political Process

When talking about the gender gap in American bicycling I often cite the statistic that, in 2009, women accounted for just 24 percent of bike trips in the U.S. But that gender gap is even more pronounced when it comes to American politics: In 2012, only 12 percent of governors, 24 percent of U.S. state legislators, and 17 percent of U.S. Congressional members were women.

Not surprisingly, the underrepresentation of women persists all the way down to the local level, where critical decisions about our transportation system are made. Cathy DeLuca, a transportation researcher, recently published a study on the participation of women on bicycle advisory committees in California — and shared some of her findings and recommendations at the National Women’s Bicycling Summit this month.

According to DeLuca’s study, women made up only 19 percent of the members on bicycle advisory committees and 24 percent of bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees in the state in 2011.

She also found that the women who did serve on their local bike/ped advisory committee were more likely to raise women’s issues and “discuss the needs of all road users.” And that perspective was welcomed: The majority of women in DeLuca’s study felt respected by their male counterparts on their committee.

So why the underrepresentation? It wasn’t a lack of awareness. According to her survey of local female bicyclists, two-thirds were aware of their local bike/ped advisory committee. Instead, the main barriers to participation included…

With more household responsibilities and childcare duties, women clearly face higher hurdles in serving on local boards and committees. But DeLuca — and the other panelists in her session at the Summit — emphasized one simple tactic to get more women engaged: encouragement. While women are less likely to run for office, DeLuca noted, “encouragement has greater influence on a woman’s decision to run than a man’s.”

So how do we make sure streets are designed with all users in minds? How do we make sure women — and men — feel safe riding bikes in their community? Get more women at the decisionmaking table. “I had many women come up to me later in the day and talk about how the panel inspired them to get more involved,” DeLuca told me, “which is a fantastic outcome.”

Click here for DeLuca’s full presentation at the Women’s Summit, and the links below for her recent study and additional resources.

Examination of Women’s Representation and Participation in Bicycle Advisory Committees in CA

Recruiting Gender Balanced Boards and Commissions: A Guide for Cities and Counties

A Five Step Guide to City and County Boards and Commissions and How to Get Appointed


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