Much has been made here in Massachusetts about female politicians like Rep. Ayanna Pressley seeking and then winning higher office. But it turns out that we actually lag behind much of the country when it comes to electing women. WGBH News' digital team has been digging into the data. Digital Managing Editor Laura Colarusso spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the project. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: How long did you work on this thing?

Laura Colarusso: We had to fit it in around other work that we were doing, but it was the better part of a year.

Howard: So what were your findings?

Colarusso: What we found was that across Massachusetts, the overwhelming majority of select board members are men.

Howard: Yeah well, some of those numbers are pretty surprising. Of what you found, of almost 1,200 select board members, a little over 300 are women and the number of town boards with no female members at all: 85. While only two boards had no men.

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Colarusso: Right. And we also looked at city councils, where we had about 29 percent of the seats held by women. And then we looked at mayors too, where out of 47 mayors across the state, only 10 of those seats are held by women.

Howard: Well Massachusetts is very well known for its progressive politics. So up on Beacon Hill, how are things?

Colarusso: Well, you see a lot of the same pattern. Early 2000s, things really hovered around 25 percent, and then we saw a slight uptick last year to 28.5 percent. But when you talk to activists around the state, they're still not satisfied with that number. Really incumbency is one of the biggest issues, and that's everywhere. But in Massachusetts, you tend to have firmly entrenched political networks that have lasted for generations.

Howard: Well how does Massachusetts compare to other states?

Colarusso: So, Massachusetts is actually 27th in the nation. That means 26 other states, including the five other New England states, have more female representation than we do.

Howard: And 27th puts you kind of in the middle of the 50 states — we’re not at the top. Massachusetts is at the top of a lot of things, but not this.

Colarusso: No. In fact, if you want to see what the top is, it's Nevada. You have to go out west, where about 50.8 percent of its legislature is female.

Howard: We're talking about the lack of women in elected positions. Is there any idea why the numbers are so low?

Colarusso: Almost everybody I spoke to for this story cited childcare as one of the main demotivating factors for women running for office. But Massachusetts actually ranks either first or second most expensive. I mean, Massachusetts beats out California and New York by thousands of dollars on an annual average. So it's very expensive to have your children watched in the state, which deters a lot of women from running for office.

Howard: Last year, 2018, there was a lot of talk about that year being the 'Year of the Woman.' But does the data hold that up?

Colarusso: Well, I think the data show that there was incremental progress. When you look at the State House, we went from about 25 to about 28.5 percent in Massachusetts. Our congressional delegation added a woman with Ayanna Pressley's surprise win over incumbent Mike Capuano. And I think even at the select board level, we saw almost a 3 percent increase in women at that level.

Howard: That seems all kind of middling, though.

Colarusso: Yeah, most activists will say that they're not happy with it and they want to make bigger gains because they want to get to that 50 percent mark.

Howard: And what is being done?

Colarusso: Well, following the 2016 election, there have been a number of local grassroots efforts that have popped up to try to help women, not just think that they can run but give them the tools to do it. So it's, 'How do you fundraise? How do you create a social media campaign?' — all sorts of nuts and bolts type campaign needs are being taught to people now. I mean, it's a pretty remarkable thing — little organizations of just neighbors getting together saying we need to do more to diversify our town government.

In Winchester, there is the Winchester Inclusive. That started with about 40 people in somebody’s living room, the night after the 2016 election, saying we have to do something to get more women and people of color in government.

Howard: How effective have they been?

Colarusso: So they've actually helped elect the first Latino select board member in Winchester. Three, first-time female candidates were elected last year, two for the school board and I believe one for the planning committee. And, they're supporting a number of candidates this time around in the local elections this spring.

Howard: You know, the old saying from Tip O'Neill, 'All politics is local,' is that where the emphasis is, more than on the federal level?

Colarusso: Well it's interesting because I kind of feel a little bit like that adage has been flipped on its head. A lot of the people I talked to felt like because of what's happening at the national level, they have to take action at the local level. So I talked to a number of candidates, first-time female candidates, who say that they're running for select board because they believe they have to combat climate change at the local level because the federal government isn't moving fast enough; that immigration is something that they need to take on at the local level because of all that's going on. I mean, the infrastructure, all of these are national issues that people see an opening to fix at the local level now.

Howard: That's WGBH Digital Managing Editor Laura Colarusso speaking with us about how Massachusetts falls short when it comes to electing women. To seeall the statistics and a video and timeline that lays it all out for you, you can go to our website, This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.