Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Womxn’s Voices in Politics
I grew up in the wake of the first “Year of the Woman,” when a record-breaking 32 women were elected to the U.S. Congress. My generation grew up with a lot of “firsts” for women in politics: the first Republican Vice Presidential nominee, the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House and most recently, the first woman of color on the Vice Presidential ticket. I grew up dreaming of one day owning my very own power suit, believing I could be and do anything I want.
I have yet to buy that power suit, but I’ve seen the number of women in the halls of our government quadruple in my lifetime. The sitting 116th Congress includes 26 women serving in the Senate and 101 women in the House of Representatives. Four women have served as Justices on the Supreme Court. Six women ran for President this year—the first time more than two women have run at the same time—and we saw the first-ever commitment to nominate a woman for the Vice Presidency. And it is important to note that representation and equality are non-partisan issues—women on both sides of the aisle have cracked the glass ceiling.
While this is certainly cause for celebration, there is still a massive gender gap in business and politics. Though we make up 51% of the U.S. population, women still only make up a quarter of Senators, Representatives, and heads of state. Women remain less than a third of all elected officials in the U.S. and lead only 7% of top businesses.
Frankly, most of these women “firsts” have come from similar backgrounds, and the representation gap is even more alarming when we look at the racial disparity in government. Despite being the most diverse Congress in history, only one in five representatives is a racial or ethnic minority. The same holds true for business. While 2020 has seen a record 37 women as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, that’s still just 7%. Only three are women of color and only one Black woman has ever served as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, way back in 2016. It’s not just CEOs -- women of color face more roadblocks to their career development across the board. And don’t even get me started on the race and gender pay gap.
Diversity in the workplace is critical to innovation and success, and opens doors for future leaders. Research shows that women make phenomenal leaders and that our “soft skills” differentiate us. We are better problem solvers and communicators, are collaborative and supportive in the workplace. Companies with more women in the C-suite are more successful as well, and can experience up to a 15% increase in profitability. Just look at the experience of all the women we’ve talked to over this campaign—from podcasting to boardrooms, what we bring to the table is critical to overall success.
These trends hold true for government as well. Women in Congress tend to be more collaborative, bi-partisan, and build more coalitions. They sponsor and co-sponsor more bills and bring 9% more federal money to their districts. Research has shown that women-led countries, like New Zealand, Germany, and Finland, have been the most successful in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
So… what can we do to address the representation gap in politics and business? For starters, we can admit there is a problem. Despite the obvious gender gap in leadership, only 60% of adults believe that there are too few women leaders in politics and business (fewer than half of men surveyed by Pew said they agree).
We can change the way that we speak about and think of women candidates and leaders. We can stop using gendered judgements like likeability, tone of voice, and demeanor to evaluate our leaders, as these tend to disproportionately affect women. We can stop referring to “women CEOs” and “women Senators” as a way to distinguish women leaders from “real” leaders.
The way that we speak to children about leadership and ambition must change as well. The stories we tell them and the heroes we teach them to look up to should represent the diversity in our communities. Boys are taught to take big risks, to swing and miss, to try, try, and try again. But many girls are taught to be perfect, making us less likely to raise our hands, go for the big promotion, or run for office. We should teach our girls that bravery, not perfection, is the goal.
We must amplify diverse voices at work and in our personal lives and include folks of all gender identities, races, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations and backgrounds in our efforts. Every table we sit at must be filled with diverse perspectives. If that’s not what you see when you look around your table, do something about it!
Perhaps most importantly, we can pledge to support and elect more women in all levels of leadership. A record number of women will be on the ballot this November, and that is a great place to start. We can make sure each and every one of us – and our friends, families, and colleagues – are registered and have a plan to vote in November. As for me, I’ll be rocking a power suit when I vote on November 3rd!Sources: https://cawp.rutgers.edu/history-women-us-congress https://fortune.com/2020/05/18/women-ceos-fortune-500-2020/ https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/there-still-gender-gap-politics https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/LFE046218 https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/09/20/women-and-leadership-2018/ https://hbr.org/2016/02/study-firms-with-more-women-in-the-c-suite-are-more-profitable https://www.inc.com/shama-hyder/the-hidden-advantage-of-women-in-leadership.html https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/02/why-companies-with-female-managers-make-more-money.html https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/15/world/coronavirus-women-leaders.html https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/10/upshot/women-actually-do-govern-differently.html https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/22/us/the-likability-trap-women-politics.html https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/08/for-the-fifth-time-in-a-row-the-new-congress-is-the-most-racially-and-ethnically-diverse-ever/ https://fortune.com/2020/06/01/black-ceos-fortune-500-2020-african-american-business-leaders/