No One Is Going to Call on You

October 12, 2009

Last week, I attended a Capitol Hill briefing on Linda Tarr-Whelan’s new book, Women Lead the Way. The book and the briefing both elicited conversations about the crucial role women’s leadership plays in quantifiable positive change and how we can bring more women to the tables of power.

According to Catalyst, an independent research organization, women possess the key management styles needed in the 21st century. Research shows that corporations with women at the top are more profitable and that companies whose corporate boards are composed of at least one-third women hire more women and people of color.

In Congress, the decision makers set the priorities, so it’s very important to have women — who make up only 17 percent of Congress — in those roles. Having women in public office is critical to the health, safety, and prosperity of a nation and can often change perceptions of what is considered a “public” issue.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) joined the briefing to share their perspectives. DeLauro, a champion for pay equity, stressed that as a woman leader “no one is going to call on you” and that you need to take up the cause and change the agenda. Sen. Landrieu shared her story of being one of only three women representatives in the Louisiana legislature when she was 23 years old. Fellow members laughed at her for proposing state legislation to help domestic violence victims; they believed that domestic violence was a “private matter” and not for “public policy.” The same was said of other “private” issues like women’s health, education, and child care.

Despite the positive outcomes of having women in leadership, the United States is moving farther behind in the world ranking of women’s leadership. In 1995, at the Beijing World Conference on Women, the United States ranked 42nd for women’s participation in the national legislature but has now fallen to 69th. In part this is because of the many challenges for women who want to lead, including sexism and having less time and money than their male counterparts due to issues like the pay gap and inequitable caregiving roles. In a chicken-and-the-egg situation, policies women advocate for — like paid leave and flexible work schedules — would help more women have more time to hold leadership positions, yet they face barriers to reaching these positions without those policies.

In her book, Linda Tarr-Whelan stresses the need for more women in leadership. She says that we need to hold 30 percent of leadership positions for the real change to occur. The challenge is how to make that happen. Using quotas is an impossible sell in our country, so we must rely on filling the leadership pipeline with women to run for office. To have the greatest influence, women in office must be able to gain seniority. This is why it’s so critical that women run for office — and run early enough in their lives to have the chance to gain seniority. AAUW’s program Campaign College trains college women to run for office and is one way to help the next generation of women see themselves as leaders. What are your ideas?

Kate Farrar By:   |   October 12, 2009


  1. Kathleen Wood Laurila says:

    It is possible to have “quotas” in state appointive offices, as several states have already established regulations that requires “gender balanced” appointments. These positions are good first steps in learning government processes and policies, and becoming adept at searing a public face.

  2. tempest1970 says:

    Many women who run for elected office do not win in part due to the disparity b/w funds raised by male and female candidates. Women need not only run, but also receive financial support as viable and effective candidates. Nonpartisan organizations like Women Under Forty Political Action Committee support women running for local, state, and federal office. Some partisan organizations include the National Federation of Republican Women, EMILY’S List, and the Young Democrats of America provide funding and training for potential candidates. While money should not shape the issues, it plays a role in getting women into leadership.

  3. Kate Farrar Kate Farrar says:

    Great point Kathleen. Quotas for appointive offices are definately an easier sell to the American public. Do you know what states have those?

    • Kathleen Wood Laurila says:

      It started in Iowa about 20 years ago, and a campaign then presentations were made to the National Assn of State Commissions on the Status of Women, and the Women State Legislators organization, setting off activity to pass it in other states. I am trying to get my hands on the current list of states that have passed this, and will post those later.

Join the Conversation

You must be logged in to post a comment.