INDIANAPOLIS | The Republican-controlled Indiana Senate is regaining its image, whether it wants to or not, as an old boys club, since women now make up less than 20 percent of its membership.
The appointment of state Sen. Connie Lawson, R-Danville, as secretary of state and the retirement of state Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, leaves nine women in the 50-member Senate, the fewest since 1988. There are 21 women in the 100-member, Republican-controlled House.
"I think it's incredibly important that the General Assembly reflect the population of the general public, and clearly women are underrepresented," said Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville. Females are 51 percent of the state's population.
Northwest Indiana has three women among its eight state senators, or one-third of the female senators. The region also has three women in its 13-member House delegation.
Simpson and state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said the lack of women in the legislature has fostered an environment that prides itself on conflict rather than compromise.
"Men and their testosterone and their chest-pounding has a whole lot to do with why things sometimes don't work out the way they should," Simpson said. "Women are born negotiators; we're born compromisers."
Simpson said she's disappointed compromise is increasingly seen as a sign of weakness in politics because the General Assembly requires negotiation and compromise to function properly.
"Women tend to search for solutions differently than men do," Simpson said. "You need a diversity of thought as well as a diversity of life experiences in order to have a real representative government."
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, agreed the Senate needs more women. Though he pointed out female senators are leaving the chamber for more powerful positions, such as Connie Lawson's new job as secretary of state or former state Sen. Becky Skillman's lieutenant governor post.
"I think we need to renew our effort to recruit more women to run," Long said. "It's tough these days, with as tough as politics has become, to recruit new people; I hope that's not why we're seeing fewer women step up."
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, suspects tough politics may be part of it, but said most women have responsibilities they can't leave behind to spend three or four months a year at the Statehouse.
"We automatically eliminate a whole bunch of women who are still at home with kids," Tallian said.
Linda Lawson said another factor is some women don't believe they can be successful in the General Assembly.
"We're kind of programmed about what we can do and what we can't do, even in 2012," she said. "Women think they can be PTA presidents; they don't think they can be state legislators."
Despite the minority status of women at the Statehouse, Linda Lawson, Simpson and Tallian said women are treated as equals.
"I don't feel that glass ceiling so much," Tallian said. "It's been a really long time since anybody dismissed me because I'm a chick."