“Nothing, arguably, is as important in the political economy of development as an adequate recognition of political, economic,and social participation, and leadership of women.”
– Nobel Prize laureate economist Amartya Sen
I just finished reading Why Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers. Although this New York Times bestseller was published in 2008, it just made it to the top of my reading list. Reflecting on her tenure as White House press secretary and the work and leadership of other professional women, I found it to be a provocative and persuasive read.
While its title could imply otherwise, it’s not a book that declares supremacy of women over men, but rather one that demonstrates the importance of balance and having both gender voices at the table and in key leadership roles – at all levels – and how a more equitably represented leadership field changes everything for men, women, and their families. The issues that need to be addressed are creating American workplace culture that is supportive of the complex dynamics at play among work, family, household responsibilities, childcare, and eldercare.
According to The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress,women are half of all US workers, and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families.
Yet, while women make up over 50% of today’s workforce, they make up only “16 percent of the US Senate, 16 percent of the House, and not quite 24 percent of state legislators,” writes Myers. And “only eight of the nation’s fifty governors are women.”
Ditto business. While women make the vast majority of consumer decisions in this country – more than 80 percent – we still lack enough influence at the top of the corporations that make and sell those goods and services. Myers states that “True, women now fill about half of all managerial positions, but among Fortune 500 companies, women account for only 16 percent of corporate officers, 5 percent of top earners, and an anemic 2 percent of CEOs.”
Myers finds that the pattern is repetitive, with women making up half of law school graduates and roughly a third of all lawyers, but they account for only 15 percent of partners in law firms or federal judges. Women make up nearly half of medical school graduates, but only a quarter of doctors and 10 percent of the deans of medical schools.
Many things drive and contribute to this reality, including biology, ideology, and simply the differences in how women and men approach work and other life responsibilities. Over the next few weeks, I’ll dedicate Raven posts to reflect on these differences as well as Myers’ writing on why women don’t rule the world, why they should rule the world, and lastly, how they can rule the world.
Each of us can make a difference from where we are. It’s up to women to step forward and do it. Here’s why it’s so critical:
• As women, we have unique gifts, talents, and perspectives to offer. Our goal is not to enhance the masculine spirit, but to express the feminine – creating a more just and caring world through the infusion of the feminine element.
• It’s the reality of the world in which we live. Trends show that the percentage makeup of women in the workplace isn’t likely to regress.
• In order to change the culture in the American workplace, women must band together. It simply won’t happen unless top women come together, speak out, and change and enforce new policy.
• A few just aren’t enough. It takes a critical mass to really make change. Myers states, “A recent study of corporate boards found it takes three women to really change the dynamic in a board room. A lone woman is often made to feel she represents the ‘woman’s point of view,’ and can be left out of decision-making discussions and even social gatherings.”
• We owe a great debt to the women who have blazed the trails before us. We all stand on their shoulders – the countless others who stuck their necks out for going where no woman has gone before.
As Anne-Marie Slaughter states in Why Women Still Can’t Have it All: “The best hope for improving the lot of all women is to close the leadership gap, elect a woman president and 50 women US senators, and ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”
Myers, Dee Dee. Why Women Should Rule the World. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.
Shriver, M. (2009, October ). The Shriver report: a woman’s nation changes everything. Retrieved from http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/10/pdf/awn/a_womans_nation.pdf
Slaughter, A. (2012, July/August). Why women still can’t have it all. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/