Last fall Janet Yellen’s appointment to chair the Federal Reserve caused great buzz throughout the nation, primarily because of her gender. She was the 28th woman chosen by the current president for an executive role, and the current Senate has a record number of females. Yet the 20 women senators comprise only 20 percent of the Senate, and few women are even on ballots throughout the United States.
American University mathematics professor Mary Gray, also a statistician and lawyer, said the problem is “a question of glass ceilings.” Women don’t have the money to run for the office. With few exceptions such as Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Susanna Martinez (New Mexico governor), men donate to other men. Michele Swers, professor of political science at Georgetown University and author of Women In The Club: Gender and Policy Making In The Senate, said people donate to likely winners with a bias toward incumbents. For example, appointed incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) just defeated Rep. Colleen Hanabusa for his office.
Swers pointed out other problems for women:
“There’s a lot of research on how voters react to women candidates. Most of it has to do with how voters react to different stereotypes about women. Political leadership qualities like being strong, direct and tough are considered male qualities. Women face a double bind in that you need to show yourself as tough and confident but still retain feminine qualities without appearing weak.”
Gray’s perspective also shows the male prejudice against women. He said that Warren was helped because she was “able to seize on a topic of interest.” He identified fiscal policy as this “interest” and contrasted her with Wendy Davis who concentrated on women’s reproductive rights, evidently not “a topic of interest.” He also said that Davis won the primary because of no competition:
“No Democrat man has come forth because they don’t think they’ll get elected. Davis is a classic example: You can get women to do things that men don’t want to do.”
Gray didn’t mention that Warren was not opposed by big money because both she and opponent, Scott Brown, refused Super PAC donations.
“A leadership role in the judiciary” is important for women candidates, according to Gray.
Last fall, the Center for American Progress ranked each state on its support of women in specific leadership seats and management gaps. Utah, Arkansas, and Kentucky came in at the bottom in comparing the number of women in these positions as compared to men. Maryland topped the list. In addition to high percentage of managerial jobs and elected congressional positions with women, the state has 110 sitting female judges, 39 percent of the 279 total. Nevada has the same percentage of female judges, and Oregon and Montana have even higher percentages, each with 43 percent.
Swers says that the Republican party is leaving the number of women behind in politics.
Derek Willis, of The New York Times, described a study showing that women who run for office are as likely as men to win political races, but they don’t run for office as often. University of Pittsburgh researchers Kristin Kanthak and Jonathan Woon designed an experiment in which members of a group volunteered to complete math problems. In some groups, the person was selected at random, and in others, the group elected its representative. Women were less willing to volunteer in the case of votes. The study’s conclusion was that women are less interested than men “in having their worthiness offered up for public debate.”
Although researchers provided evidence that women’s personal fears held them back from volunteering, Amanda Marcotte offers some caveats to this conclusion.
“After all, the reason that women are more afraid to offer themselves up for public judgment isn’t because women are inherently timid, as shown by their willingness to volunteer in the random selection groups. The likelier explanation is that women know, from experience, that the process of having a group evaluate your worthiness is a much more punishing experience for women, because you have to endure greater and more candid scrutiny than men do, a gender disparity that any foray into social media or parenting or Hollywood easily demonstrates.”
College seems to be the time that women no longer compete at the same rate as men for political office. According to Jennifer Lawless’ study, the percentage of both boys and girls who ran for high school student government was the same (23 percent), and girls were slightly ahead in winning. Lawless cited two reasons for high school politics having fewer gender differences than those in college:
- College-aged men were much more likely to say that a parent had encouraged them to run for office someday; about a third of men said their mom or dad had encouraged them while less than a quarter of women said the same.
- Men are much likelier to put themselves in politically immersive environments such as becoming involved in the College Democrats or College Republicans, reading political news, or even discussing politics with friends.
Lawless’ study is ten years old, and young women now have far stronger female political role models—Nancy Pelosi, Michele Bachmann, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Elizabeth Warren have all risen to prominence since then. Yet there seems to be no difference in women running for office in that time, possibly because the campaigns for these women showed the serious gender bias in electioneering.
Sports seems to be one factor in running for office. Both men and women who played varsity-level sports were more likely to run for office. The number of girls and women in competitive sports has increased dramatically since Title IX went into effect over 40 years ago. Female high school athletes went from 7.4 percent in 1972 to 41.4 percent in the 2010-2011 school year.
Cultural stereotypes frequently keep women from political action. Women can find it difficult to show the confidence and assertiveness connected to strong leadership but still appear “likeable.” The “ideal worker” is seen as having no demands from home responsibilities, relegating women with caregiving needs to second-class status. A 40-hour-a-week job is now seen as part time. Women’s leadership in the corporate world has stalled: females held only 16.9 percent of board seats in 2012 with no increase for eight years. In political empowerment, the United States ranks 60 out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 global gender gap index.
The need for more women in leadership positions is not merely a call for equal numbers of men and women. Research during the past two decades shows that when women thrive, both organizations and nations thrive. Women’s leadership moves companies, governments, and societies in better directions.
Women tend to be far more effective leaders, according to a new survey from Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor in 13 countries. Women outperformed men in 10 of 14 leadership qualities. Other studies show that countries with ethnic diversity usually showing weaker economic growth reverse this trend with women leaders. The more diverse the country, the stronger the effect. Authors of one study think that women’s collaborative and non-authoritarian leadership style makes the difference. In addition, women seem more trustworthy. With the growing ethnic diversity in the United States, people need to take notice of one solution to our problems.
“The ‘Us versus Them’ leadership mentality is running its course, and collaborative leadership styles are more valued than they were before,” stated the Kellogg Institute study, urging both men and women to see the value in throwing off gender inhibitors and embracing the idea that moving forward depends on more women leaders.
Obviously, not all women candidates fit the description above. An example is Oregon’s GOP senatorial candidate, Monica Wehby, who fits the authoritarian model of her party. For example, Wehby opposes the Paycheck Fairness Act, using the conservative complaint that the federal bill is “flawed,” and claiming that it would cause businesses to not hire women.
The value of women in leadership positions is only when they are able to support gender equality and improve life for everyone.