MSU PLS researchers show the lack of women serving in public office

March 24, 2022

Following new research showing that Michigan women are underrepresented in elected county commission seats, alongside other studies showing women are underrepresented in the state legislature and elected municipal offices, the Michigan Women’s Commission encourages women on both sides of the aisle to consider running for office given their effectiveness when they serve. This news comes in advance of Michigan’s April 19th filing deadline for the 2022 election year. 

Over the last year, the Michigan Women’s Commission partnered with the Center for Gender in Global Context (GenCen) at Michigan State University (MSU) to conduct research on the number of women elected to County Commission seats throughout Michigan. Led by Dr. Eric Gonzalez Juenke, Associate Professor in the MSU Department of Political Science with assistance from MSU honors student Mikayla Stokes, the study found that women hold only 27% of County Commission seats in Michigan’s 83 counties. Accordingly, 90% of the county boards are majority men. The study also found that roughly 1 in 6 of Michigan’s County Commissions had no women members in 2021. 

“One-third is not enough,” said Muna Jondy, Chair of the Michigan Women’s Commission. “Michigan deserves more equitable policy solutions that would result if half the state’s population was better represented in at least half the elected seats making decisions that impact every aspect of our lives.” 

To encourage more women to consider running for elected office, the Michigan Women’s Commission points to studies showing that women tend to be extremely effective leaders. One study on Congress found that women legislators secure more federal discretionary money for their districts than men. In business, research finds that executive teams with greater gender diversity have greater profitability. Studies conducted both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic found that women are rated significantly higher than men at leading during a crisis. 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer joins the Michigan Women’s Commission’s call for more women to run for elected office.  

“There was a point during my time in the Michigan Legislature when there were as many men named John in the Senate as there were women,” said Governor Whitmer. “I’ve seen first-hand in my administration the difference it makes when more women are at the table, and I encourage Michigan women of all political stripes to consider running for legislative, county and municipal offices. With these findings on how under-represented women are in elected office generally, I am calling on women to step up and raise your hands. We need your experience, your voice and your expertise at all of our policymaking tables.” 

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, which annually compiles the legislative and municipal numbers nationally, Michigan women have only ever made up one-third of the state legislature within the last decade.  

The new Michigan county commission statistics are similar to their research showing that women are currently elected to 35.1% of Michigan’s 148 state legislative seats, and 35.7% of the state’s municipal offices (based on Michigan’s 182 incorporated municipalities with populations over 10,000). 

“Representation matters,” said Dr. Stephanie Nawyn, Director of MSU’s Center for Gender in Global Context (GenCen) and Associate Professor of Sociology at MSU.  “A wealth of research shows that diverse groups and inclusive decision-making teams make better decisions, find more workable solutions to problems and deliver greater results. That’s as true for government as it is for academia and business.” 

Increasing the number of women serving in leadership positions in business, nonprofit and government ranks is a core initiative of the Michigan Women’s Commission. Their Visible Authentic Leadership Committee is exploring policies and actions that will increase the number of women serving in publicly visible leadership roles across sectors. Last fall, the Commission launched its #MiWomenWednesday social media campaign, featuring videos of women around the state sharing their advice and experience in leadership, with the goal of showing the diversity of leadership styles and opportunities.  

“How do we get more women represented in elected office? We ask them to run,” said Dr. Geneva Williams, Chair of the Michigan Women’s Commission Visible Authentic Leadership Committee. “As we approach Michigan’s April 19 candidate filing deadline for the 2022 election cycle, we all need to individually ask the female leaders in our networks to run for office. We need to find out what supports they need to be able to run – and then we need to provide those supports.” 

The 15-member Michigan Women's Commission was created by statute in 1968. Commission duties include reviewing the status of women in Michigan, directing attention to critical problems confronting women, and recognizing women's accomplishments and contributions to Michigan. Commissioners are appointed by the Governor and serve three-year terms. To learn more about the Michigan Women’s Commission, visit  

The Center for Gender in Global Context (GenCen) serves as Michigan State University's hub for gender and sexuality research, teaching and engagement with a global perspective. Its mission is to connect scholars, students and community stakeholders with feminist knowledge to advance social change and deepen their understanding of gender relations, the cultural and material politics of place and the relationships between global and local transformations in real-world contexts. To learn more about GenCen, visit