Do Women Make Better Lobbyists Than Men?

Men outnumber women on K Street, but female lobbyists tend to bring in bigger contracts than their male counterparts.
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Charles Dharapak/AP Images

While it's no secret that men outnumber women in Washington's lobbying corps, individual lobbying contracts held by women are worth more on average than those held by men, according to an analysis of lobbying disclosures by LegiStorm.

The average contract between a client and a single female lobbyist was worth more than a contract between a client and a single male lobbyist in 2002, 2007, and 2012, the years analyzed by LegiStorm, a nonpartisan group that provides information on Congress. Moreover, a two-woman team held contracts with a greater average worth than those held by a two-man team, and contracts with a mixed-gender team tended to be worth more than contacts held by two men.

For example, the average contract amount between a single woman and a client in 2012 was $33,289, while that for a single male lobbyist was $26,299. Contracts between two women and a client averaged $23,542; for two men, contracts averaged $17,855. For a mixed-gender team, the average was $22,992.

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The study--one of the first of its kind--offers a window on Washington's roughly $3 billion lobbying industry and how it is evolving.

"It's important to understand gender effects on pay and earnings," says Jock Friedly, president and founder of LegiStorm. "Certainly this is incredibly important information for the lobbying firms as they're staffing up and thinking how to maximize the dollars coming in."

To determine the gender of lobbyists, LegiStorm analyzed lobbying registrations and used a computer algorithm that assigns gender based on names that have been determined to be gender-specific. On the surface, the analysis indicated that women lobbyists outperform men in bringing in higher-valued contracts or better-paying clients.

There are several potential explanations for the difference. One is that women hold fewer contracts than men, which means a smaller pool of contracts from which to calculate an average. Another is sometimes called the "rainmaker effect," which holds that some male lobbyists may have greater leverage and spread their work across more contracts than female lobbyists do, says Mirko Draca, a labor economist specializing in the political labor market at the London School of Economics and the University of Warwick. If that's the case, individual contracts held by men may not be worth as much as those held by women, but an individual male lobbyist may be pulling in more money in total.

Overall, men far outnumber women on K Street, although the gap is slowly narrowing. In 2002, nearly 32 percent of lobbyists were women, according to LegiStorm. In 2012, the proportion grew to 35 percent. One reason for the disparity, Draca said, may be "the overall gender-gap problem in the labor market."

Many lobbyists don't start out lobbying. Rather, they begin their careers as staffers on Capitol Hill, in the executive branch, or elsewhere in Washington. So gender disparities in those worlds may cross into the lobbying world.

A regular survey conducted by National Journal of more than 300 top congressional aides showed that in 2011 about one-third were women. A recent NJ survey of high-ranking members of President Obama's second-term administration found that women hold about 40 percent of the 250 top positions.

Because many lobbyists don't come to the profession until later in their careers--the same time many women consider taking a break to raise a family--the timing may also be preventing some women from entering or staying in the field.

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Elahe Izadi covers Capitol Hill for National Journal.

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