No One Is Going to Call on YouOctober 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?