Washington, D.C. — At an event today featuring remarks by Val Demings, the first woman to have served as police chief in Orlando, Florida, the Center for American Progress released the report, “Women’s Leadership: What’s True, What’s False, and Why It Matters.” The new analysis examines the stubbornly persistent gender gap in workplace advancement and political representation, questions how and why we talk about women’s leadership in the United States, and offers insights into how we might more successfully fight to remove longstanding barriers to women’s equal participation.
“Arguments in favor of women’s leadership all too often rest upon feel-good stereotypes about all the ways that women—’naturally’ more collaborative, more risk-averse, more grounded in old-fashioned common sense—can be better leaders than men,” says Judith Warner, a CAP Senior Fellow and author of the report. “Such conversations, not surprisingly, have turned out to be unproductive. The truth is, the argument for women’s leadership rests on hard facts: Women are breadwinners in fully 40 percent of American homes, and they control 80 percent of consumer spending in the United States. If they can’t work, earn, and spend to the full extent of their capabilities, our economy that suffers the consequences. We simply can’t afford to have women fall behind.”
The report unpacks the idea that when women thrive, so too do organizations and nations, and finds that removing the barriers to women’s equal participation is good economic policy.
Through her review of recent research, Warner finds that women’s history of exclusion provides a key reason as to why more female leadership can be such a boon to corporations, nations, and economies.
“When any group of people are in the minority, they behave differently than when their numbers are greater, as their outsider status deeply affects their attitudes and values,” she writes. “Women, long excluded from the most elite realms of power, retain an outsider status even when they ascend to senior leadership roles. And it is this outsider status that appears to have meaningful effects on how they go about the business of leadership. Women appear to lead in ways that challenge existing hierarchies and have shown a particular willingness to break with practices that reinforce the wealth and influence of those who are already powerful, such as CEOs. And their history of exclusion may explain why female politicians have typically been less corrupt than their male colleagues.”
Warner finds that to end our national stall in the advancement of women, we must:
Keep women in the workforce to increase the number of women in the leadership pipeline. For non-executive women, this means advancing public policy initiatives that are aimed at making it possible for women to flourish in the workforce over the totality of their working lives. Policies such as paid family leave, paid sick days, predictable scheduling, and the ability to request flexible work arrangements are crucial to ensuring all workers, especially women, remain in their jobs.
Change the value system by which we evaluate and promote promising employees. We need solutions that focus not on women per se, but on the larger institutional structures that reinforce stereotypes about them, put them on separate tracks than men, and marginalize anyone—mother or not—who needs to invest time in caregiving. We need to change the American workplace in ways that alter the rules of the game for men and women alike.