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Women on Capitol Hill dish on their experiences with sexism

Sexism on Capitol Hill is by no means new. But a new survey from the National Journal published Thursday shows how widespread the problem still is.

The political magazine anonymously interviewed more than 500 women on the Hill from ages 23 to 60 about their experiences. Nearly 40 percent of the women interviewed were communications directors, and 31 percent held a chief of staff position. The responses were forthright.

“I found that I had previously been paid and was currently being offered to be paid almost exactly 76 cents to the dollar of what the male staffer whose role I would be taking on had been paid,” a woman who works in the halls of Congress said.

As for when being a woman helps, one said “Women are in demand. It seems like Republicans want a female spokesperson.” Another said, “In helping my male bosses message ‘women’s issues,’ I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to explain just how poorly their stances will play with women because I am a woman.”

At the same time, many recalled times when a lower-ranked male will be addressed for questions instead of a higher-ranked female. “Many times, if I attend a meeting — particularly on defense or national security issues — with one of our young male legislative aides, our guests will address their remarks to the male legislative aide, even though he is a junior staffer.”

Additionally, it’s not unusual for female staffers, even those in senior positions, to not be allowed to have one-on-one meetings with their male bosses, or even to drive with them, one woman said.

As for advice, female staffers encouraged finding mentors and banding with other women. One told her colleagues to use public salaries to their advantage: “Don’t ever take being paid less than a man is.”

Exactly half of respondents said they had experienced “some” sexism since working on the Hill, while a quarter said “very little,” and 14 percent said a lot. Ten percent of respondents said they experienced none at all. None of the women said there was no sexism on Capitol Hill.

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