Legislative Diversity and the Rise of Women Lobbyists

AuthorJames M. Strickland,Katelyn E. Stauffer
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211009305
Over the past several decades, women’s roles as political
lobbyists have changed considerably. Women now hold a
greater percentage of positions, represent more clients,
and represent major interests. Today, women hold 37 per-
cent of federal lobbying positions (LaPira, Marchetti, and
Thomas 2020). Roughly 29 percent of state lobbyists are
women according to the most recent figures, from 2005
(Lucas and Hyde 2012). Although this represents
improvement over women’s representation in decades
past, lobbying—like many areas of politics—continues to
be a male-dominated arena. The enduring dearth of
women lobbyists leads to questions about when and why
women are included (or excluded) from lobbying.
Existing work offers insights into how women lobby and
the role gender plays in structuring workplace environ-
ments, tactics, and the types of clients represented (e.g.,
Lucas and Hyde 2012; Nownes and Freeman 1998;
Schlozman 1990). Equally important questions, however,
are when, how, and why women are able to become lob-
byists. Here, the literature has been less clear, and we
have little understanding of the institutional factors con-
tributing to women’s emergence as lobbyists. To answer
this question, we examine the changing dynamics of
women’s representation across the American states.
Research on women legislators has frequently used a
supply-and-demand framework to explain temporal and
geographic variation in women’s representation (e.g.,
Inglehart and Norris 2003). A similar framework can be
applied to women lobbyists. Here, supply-side factors are
those that shape the pool of potential lobbyists: ability,
resources, and desire to acquire a position. Existing
explanations of women’s gains as lobbyists largely
address supply-side factors and tend to be functional (i.e.,
women lobbyists now represent more clients and earn
more money because they have gained more years of
experience on average) or context-based (i.e., women
have made gains due to changes in social norms and gen-
dered attitudes). In both cases, these theories explain why
the pool of potential women lobbyists has increased, with
the implicit assumption being a larger pool ultimately
results in more women in these positions. Conversely,
demand-side factors refer to the desire to see women in
political roles and the institutional factors that facilitate
women’s inclusion in (or exclusion from) these positions.
For lobbying, demand-side factors can be thought of as
the perceived incentives of interest groups to hire women.
Understanding these factors is critical to understanding
women’s emergence as lobbyists because groups exercise
a large degree of control over who gets to hold these
1009305PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211009305Political Research QuarterlyStrickland and Stauer
1Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
2University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA
Corresponding Author:
James M. Strickland, School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona
State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA.
Email: James.strickland@asu.edu
Legislative Diversity and
the Rise of Women Lobbyists
James M. Strickland1 and Katelyn E. Stauffer2
Despite a growing body of literature examining the consequences of women’s inclusion among lobbyists, our
understanding of the factors that lead to women’s initial emergence in the profession is limited. In this study, we
propose that gender diversity among legislative targets incentivizes organized interests to hire women lobbyists,
and thus helps to explain when and how women emerge as lobbyists. Using a comprehensive data set of registered
lobbyist–client pairings from all American states in 1989 and 2011, we find that legislative diversity influences not
only the number of lobby contracts held by women but also the number of former women legislators who become
revolving-door lobbyists. This second finding further supports the argument that interests capitalize on the personal
characteristics of lobbyists, specifically by hiring women to work in more diverse legislatures. Our findings have
implications for women and politics, lobbying, and voice and political equality in the United States.
lobbying, women, state politics, legislatures
2022, Vol. 75(3) 531–546
532 Political Research Quarterly 75(3)
positions. Individuals do not simply decide to become
lobbyists; they must be authorized or hired to represent an
We address these demand-side factors and theorize
that interest groups are motivated to hire lobbyists who
share the descriptive characteristics of their legislative
targets, under the assumption that descriptively similar
lobbyists will have an easier time achieving access among
legislators “like them.” Changes in the gender composi-
tion of legislatures should increase the “demand” for
women lobbyists, thereby increasing the number of
women lobbyists and their clients. We note our research
examines how institutional demand shapes women’s
emergence only; we do not make claims about why cer-
tain women decide to pursue a career in lobbying. Gray
and Lowery (1996) and Leech et al. (2005) find that
demand for lobbyists (in general) varies depending on
populations of organized interests or legislative policy
agendas. Our work applies this concept to the kinds of
lobbyists organized interests hire.
We argue there are two possible reasons to expect inter-
est groups to hire more women lobbyists in response to
legislative gender diversity. First, interests may assume
female lobbyists have an easier time forming personal
relationships with female legislators. As these personal
relationships are integral to state lobbying (Rosenthal
1993), organized interests should be incentivized to
respond to changes in legislative diversity by hiring lob-
byists whom they believe can gain access more easily. A
second explanation is informational in nature. Lobbyists
regularly achieve influence by providing relevant infor-
mation to lawmakers and performing ancillary services
(see Hall and Deardorff 2006). Because there is overlap in
the types of issues women frequently lobby for and legis-
late on, interest groups may see women legislators as nat-
ural allies to women lobbyists and their interests. Gender
diversity in the legislature may therefore produce an envi-
ronment more conducive to the emergence of women lob-
byists and women’s issue groups. While we do not
completely disentangle these two causal pathways, both
suggest states with more women legislators are contexts
where organized interests perceive women lobbyists are
more valuable, thus increasing demand.
We test our expectations using thousands of regis-
tered lobbyist–client pairings across the American states
in 1989 and 2011. The results of our analyses indicate
women’s representation among lobbyists is linked to
representation in legislative politics—even after account-
ing for contextual factors that presumably influence the
supply of both women legislators and lobbyists. We find
states with increasing percentages of women in the legis-
lature also see increases in the number of clients women
lobbyists represent—indicating greater breadth of influ-
ence. Women legislators are also more likely to become
lobbyists after leaving office in these states, compared
with those where women hold few legislative seats.
Additional analyses show that the number of women
lobbyists in a state is associated with women’s represen-
tation in majority parties but not minority parties, provid-
ing further evidence that organized interests strategically
seek out gender diversity in their ranks to match their leg-
islative targets. In short, we show that legislative diver-
sity plays a role in shaping the demand for women
lobbyists and the barriers to entry faced by women inter-
ested in the profession.
Our study represents an advance in research on lobby-
ing and gender and politics in several ways. First, we
address the factors leading to women’s emergence, rather
than focusing on women’s activities after they have
already become lobbyists. This is important because the
factors influencing women’s presence likely also shape
subsequent lobbying activities. Second, while existing
scholarship notes that access and influence are key goals
among interest groups, our understanding of how groups
decide who to hire is limited. Although our results do not
allow us to examine internal decision making within
organizations, they do help to provide a framework to
understand one aspect of how institutional context poten-
tially shifts hiring incentives.
Our results also have implications for the literature on
gender and politics and women’s representation. As we
highlight, women’s representation in political positions is
dynamic, and representation in one area of politics (in our
case, legislatures) can shape the dynamics of representa-
tion elsewhere. In addition, while past research has exam-
ined the factors leading to women’s emergence as political
candidates (e.g., Lawless and Fox 2010; Thomsen and
King 2020), less attention has been paid to women in
non-elected political roles in American politics. Although
comparative politics scholars have examined women’s
emergence in non-elected roles such as cabinet ministers
(e.g., Barnes and O’Brien 2018), our understanding of
women’s emergence in non-elected policy-making roles
in the United States remains limited. Our findings address
this gap in the literature and have implications for under-
standings of substantive representation. Past research
suggests women tend to represent different kinds of inter-
ests and groups than their male counterparts (LaPira,
Marchetti, and Thomas 2020; Lucas and Hyde 2012).
Understanding the institutional circumstances that lead
women—and the groups they represent—to be more
present in the political system has ramifications for equal-
ity and voice in American democracy.
Women as Lobbyists
Previous research on gender and lobbying generally
focuses on questions related to how men and women

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