Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Jeffrey Lazarus

Second Advisor

Dr. Amy Steigerwalt

Third Advisor

Dr. Periloux Peay

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Karen Owen


Existing research has extensively considered the ways in which women and men differ in their expressed desire for higher political positions. Yet, little research has been done to understand ambition among women in non-elected political positions. I hope to explain why men are more likely than women to achieve high level staff positions like Chief of Staff and Legislative Director, and why women are often pushed into communications positions rather than policy positions at higher rates than men. To better explain the gap between men and women in career advancement on the Hill, I draw on the literature which examines gender dynamics in the decision to run for office. That literature finds that women are less likely to seek office than men; I argue that the same factors which explain that gender disparity similarly influence the career progression of female congressional staff women in elected political positions. There are three such factors. First, women tend to have lower levels of confidence, leading them to be less likely to seek positions on their own (Fox and Lawless 2011; Pearson & McGhee 2013). Second, those responsible for filling positions do not often recruit women, formally or informally (Fox and Lawless 2010; Aldrich 2002; Jewell and Morehouse 2001; Sanbonmatsu 2006). Finally, women are disproportionately responsible for raising children and other family responsibilities, leaving less time for professional development (Lawless & Fox 2011). All three factors have been linked to fewer women running for elected office, and I argue that they likewise lead to women congressional staff moving slower through the promotion process in Capitol Hill staff careers. I plan to address this in a mixed-methods project, drawing on both interviews from current and former Congressional staff as well as a large N dataset available for purchase from Legistorm.


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