Women and Leadership – Redux

As of May 1st, every poll had men leading the list of Democratic contenders. Not only were Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the lead, they were in the lead by a lot. To say the obvious, this can and will change. But as of this writing, the odds are against a woman at the top of either the Republican or Democratic 2020 presidential ticket.

As always, the question is why. Why given the strong slate of Democratic women (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand), every one of whom has won every election in which she ran, do they still lag after men?

The answers of course are complex, and they are various. So, I will not here attempt to address the question in full. Still, I will seize the occasion to review recent research on women in the American workplace and use it to reiterate how knotty the problem.

  • The most educated women still face the biggest gender gaps in both status and pay.
  • Women still comprise less than 5 % of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
  • Women still comprise less than 25 % of the U.S. Congress.
  • Women still comprise just one quarter of the top 10 % of U. S. earners.
  • The returns to working long, inflexible hours have significantly increased.
  • Assuming two parents with young children, generally only one takes the very demanding job – the father not the mother.
  • Technology has made professions greedier for people who put in exceedingly long hours.
  • People who work 50 hours or more a week earn up to 8 percent more per hour than those who work from 35 to 49 hours.
  • More women (80%) with advanced degrees have children than was the case 20 years ago (65%) – hence more women are affected by whatever the gender imbalances.
  • MenCare estimates it will take another 75 years for men worldwide to do half the unpaid work that domesticity requires.
  • Only 17 percent of mothers with children three years or younger say they prefer to work full time.*

To summarize: First, American women still lag far behind American men, especially in the most visible and important leadership roles. Second, the reasons for this relate more to the exceedingly demanding nature of work, especially professional work, in the 21st century than they do to anything else. Third, the exceedingly demanding nature of work most directly affects women with young children. Fourth, the work-related differences between men and women seem not only to be imposed from the outside; some seem to emanate from the inside, from women who want to remain close to their children, especially when they are young. Fifth, while all the fixes still focus on the workplace, women will continue to be women. Specifically, they will continue to be the parent who is pregnant, and who, after the baby is born, can if she wants breast feed the baby. Sixth, until the intersection between the nature of the workplace and the nature of women (and men) is addressed, so long will the conundrum of women and leadership persist.    

Postscript: Elizabeth Warren has two adult children. Kamala Harris has two children, both born to her husband and his prior wife. (Harris has not had a child of her own.)  Klobuchar has one adult child. Gillibrand his two teenaged children.

  • Note: For an excellent article on greedy work and its impact on women particularly, see Claire Cain Miller, “Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got ‘Greedy’” in New York Times, April 28, 2019.

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