Has Washington broken the glass ceiling?
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., thinks so.
"I think there's a glass ceiling in the private sector," said the lawmaker, who was one of four guests on National Journal's Women 2020 politics panel. But Duckworth contends that politics is a different ball game.
She offered her personal experience as an example, and she certainly has a lot of it: Duckworth has been an Internet viral sensation for such memorable moments as shaming a falsely disabled veteran during a congressional hearing, and she is also known for her Army service as a Black Hawk pilot.
She attributes the lack of obstacles for women to the Democratic contingent in the House, which she calls a "majority minority party." She may be right: After all, she says, Democrats elected Nancy Pelosi as the first female House speaker. And, Duckworth adds, there's clear diversity in her colleagues' ethnicity, gender, and orientation.
But not all participants in the women's summit are so optimistic about the progressivism of politics.
Former Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., objected to the quick dismissal of the glass ceiling—although she concedes that perhaps that ceiling also cracks along party lines.
"Democrats are very smart," Bono said. Of her Republican colleagues, Bono decried, "The men in our party are rather slow to recognize that it's in their best interest to support women."
Asking women to run for office is key, panelists agreed—and asking several times. According to Duckworth, studies show that women have to be asked at least seven times before they consider running for public office, compared with men, who only need to be asked once.
Is there hope for the next generation?
Panelist Alex Smith, of the College Republican National Committee, said that in her run for the organization's national chairmanship, her "gender did not matter" and really doesn't matter for other young professionals, in light of more pressing issues.
"When youth unemployment is 16.1 percent," Smith said, "that affects women just as much as men."