University of Rochester

Survey Shows Small Strides for Women in New York State's Local Governments

March 26, 2010

The Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester Issues New Report

Although national figures like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are making history for women in politics, a new study shows there has been little change over the past two years in the number of women serving in elected local offices in New York State. These are a result of a report issued by the Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester on the status of women in New York's 57 county governments and its five largest cities.

The report, titled "Women in New York State's Local Government: Stagnation and Promise," compares the number of women in local elected offices in 2008 and 2010. The data shows that after local elections in 2009, women held 17.1 percent of the seats on county legislatures, a number that has been virtually unchanged since 2004. In 2010 only Otsego and Tompkins counties come close to having an equal share of women and men on their county legislatures, and Allegany, Franklin, Lewis, and Warren counties have no women on their county legislatures. In both leadership and numbers, women have made the most strides in city government. In 2009, women held just over one-third (33) of 95 possible city council seats in New York's five largest cities New York City, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. This represents an increase of 4 percent over 2007.

In Rochester, women currently make up more than 55 percent of its city council, making it the only local government surveyed where women are a majority, and the only exception to the statewide and even national trends addressed in the report. Nora Bredes, director of the Anthony Center, points to Rochester's place in history as the home of Susan B. Anthony and its proximity to Seneca Falls, the location of the first Women's Rights Convention in 1848, as possible reasons for the area's acceptance of women in local government. "If that is the case, greater efforts should be made to educate the public about the history of women leaders and the gendered cultural constraints that can impede both women and men in politics."

The Anthony Center at the University of Rochester began surveying women in politics in New York State in 2004. Since that time, the number of women leading their counties as either executives or administrators has tripled. However, the absolute number has grown from just two to six of 57 possible leadership positions, resulting in women comprising just 10 percent of the group. "Our study indicates that there's still much work that needs to be done for women to reach equal representation in local government. Women need to be recruited by party leaders and convinced that there's a place for their concerns and style of leadership," said Bredes.

The full report and statistics are available online at For more information, call the Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester at (585) 275-8799.