Why We Need More Women in Politics

By Linnea Uyeno ’20

LOOKING FORWARDS:  Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a “Get Out the Caucus” rally at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. Image credit: Flicker, Photo by Gage Skidmore.

LOOKING FORWARDS:  Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a “Get Out the Caucus” rally at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. Image credit: Flicker, Photo by Gage Skidmore.

From Joan of Arc, to Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth, the concept of a female head of society is not a new one. On November 8, America failed to elect our first female president. Secretary Clinton’s loss raises many questions. What is holding women in America back? Have our heels not been high enough to reach the podium, or is the media too distracted by our hair to consider the content beneath it?

Do women make better leaders? According to some research, yes, and under certain circumstances. Contrary to popular belief, the benefits of female leadership extend past matters traditionally thought of as “women’s issues”. A study published in Columbia’s Journal of International Affairs, concluded that women do lead differently (Perkins, Phillips, and Pearce, 2016). The study looked at GDP growth of 188 countries from 1950 to 2004, and compared it against the ethnic fractionalization index (EF) of each country. They used EF as a variable to measure the amount of inequality and conflict within each country. The study concluded that in extremely ethnically diverse countries a female leader increased GDP by an average of 6.6 percent. For example, take Liberia, one of the most ethnically diverse and difficult to lead countries. Researchers found that under female leadership, the predicted GDP growth was 14.55 percent, versus -1.89 percent under male leadership. In countries with higher conflict rates (EF), a female president proved to be a more effective leader. Evolutionary psychologists say this study reflects women’s leadership ability in tense situations, especially those that demand more cooperative and inclusionary practices (Perkins, Phillips, and Pearce, 2016).

Recent reports of anger, hate and division have spread contagiously around the nation in the last few days. A simple scroll down Facebook reveals a plethora of hate crimes. Based on the findings about ethnic fractionalization and female leadership (Perkins, Phillips, and Pearce, 2016), it doesn’t seem to be far-fetched to say that female leaders could help unite this nation.

Even on a corporate level, research suggests that women outperform their male counterparts as leaders. A study published in Harvard Business Review surveyed a total of 7,280 leaders, and had their associates and bosses rank in them in 16 qualities. The 16 categories measured overall leadership effectiveness. In 12 out of the 16 competencies, women vastly outranked their male counterparts (Zenger & Folkman, 2012). Yet, in 2016, women held only 4.2 percent of CEO positions within Fortune 500 companies (Zarya, 2016).

What is even more disconcerting is how far behind the U.S. ranks in comparison to other countries in terms of female leadership. According to the International Parliamentary Union (IPU), the U.S. ranks 99th when it comes to women in the national legislature (IPU, 2016). We are behind Cuba, China, Uganda, and Iraq. The list of countries that outrank us goes on and on. Why does America lag behind other less developed countries as far as political representation? The answer is a combination of things. The political structures of the U.S. including but not limited to the Electoral College (she did win the popular vote), the media’s portrayal of women, society’s perception of women as weaker leaders, and women’s reluctance to run for political office. Even Claremont McKenna College has an unequal representation of women in executive leadership positions in the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College government (ASCMC). For example, the first year class had nine men run for first year class president and only two women. Furthermore, there are 15 men on ASCMC Executive Cabinet, compared to eight women.

Why are more women not running for elected positions? Maybe it’s because women feel like they are scrutinized under a different microscope. Remember the 2008 SNL skit about media portrayals of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton? The media’s depiction of Palin as ditzy and hot and Clinton as bossy and ugly, is no laughing matter, it’s a reality for all women who enter into the world of politics and business. Hillary Clinton has had a long pathway to the top, that has not been without its bumps in the road. Along the way she has been questioned on her dress, demeanor, appearance, and laugh. A woman must walk along a fine tightrope between being sexy and boring. She must assert herself as being a boss without being bossy or demanding. A 2007 study found that when women display traditional leadership behaviors like assertiveness, they are viewed as capable, but are not well-liked or received. However, women, who take on a more stereotypical feminine approach to leadership, are seen as unfit to lead (Catalyst, 2007).

While it’s clear that Hillary Clinton made some mistakes along the way, it is also apparent that she has been held to a different standard on the way up. Would Donald Trump have beaten her if she was a man? His brash masculinity that enabled his rise, reflects our society’s perception on what it means to be a leader.

If Hillary Clinton had been elected, it may not have been a physical step forward for women’s rights, but I believe it would have been a huge symbolic one. Research shows that the effect of women elected into leadership positions can impact future generations. In India, researchers examined the effects of a female leadership quota that reserved a proportioned amount of local leadership positions for women. First, they found that the increase in female representation increased aspirations of young girls. They discovered that, compared to villages that were never given quotas, the gender gap in aspirations between girls and boys closed by 32% (Beaman et al., 2012). Additionally, girls in these villages were able to spend less time doing chores in the home, and they pursued higher degrees of education, compared to villages without the quota. Next the increased gender representation helped society to promote policies that made it easier for women to succeed in general. Therefore, women in these communities began to enter leadership roles at a higher rate even after the quota was removed. The biggest effect was on public perception surrounding female leadership. Society began to see women leaders as more qualified in comparison to their non-quota neighbors.

Hillary’s journey as the first female presidential candidate may inspire future generations of women. However, it is important to not draw away from the challenges that continue to face women who are competing for other levels of political office. If we ever want to achieve any sort of equal representation in politics, it is important to approach the matter from a bottom-up movement. We must make an ongoing effort to shatter the ceilings that prevent women from rising up at a local and state level. It’s fair to say that Secretary Clinton’s loss shocked us all. Even though women weren’t victorious in the oval office, we did elect the largest number of minority women into the senate. The battle doesn’t end here. It didn’t end when we took off our suffrage sashes, or when we put down our brooms and traded our dresses for colored pantsuits. We must keep fighting for equality. As Rosie the Riveter would say: we can do it!

Perkins, S. E., Phillips, K. W., & Pearce, N. A. (2013). Ethnic diversity, gender, and national leaders. Journal of International Affairs, 67(1), 85-104. Retrieved November 9, 2016, from https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/ethnic-diversity-gender-national-leaders

Beaman, L., Duflo, E., Pande, R., & Topalova, P. (2012). Female Leadership Raises Aspirations and Educational Attainment for Girls: A Policy Experiment in India. Retrieved November 9, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3394179/
Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2012). Are Women Make Better Leaders than Men? Retrieved November 11, 2016, from https://hbr.org/2012/03/a-study-in-leadership-women-do
Zarya, V. (2016, June 06). The Percentage of Female CEOs in the Fortune 500 Drops to 4%. Retrieved November 11, 2016, from http://fortune.com/2016/06/06/women-ceos-fortune-500-2016/

International Parliamentary Union. (2016, November 1). Women in Parliaments: World Classification. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm

Catalyst. (2007, July 17). Damned or Doomed–Catalyst Study on Gender Stereotyping at Work Uncovers Double-Bind Dilemmas for Women. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.catalyst.org/media/damned-or-doomed-catalyst-study-gender-stereotyping-work-uncovers-double-bind-dilemmas-women