Updates on the Shecession: Current Research on Working Mothers

Early in the pandemic I wrote a post about the potential long-term impact of the pandemic on working mothers in the United States. Now, several months later, new studies reveal the following bad news for working mothers:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in the first ten months of 2020, women lost 5.4 million jobs—nearly 1 million more than men. Women of color suffered a higher proportion of these losses overall, and in December 2020, Black, Hispanic, and Asian women suffered all the women’s job losses.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris notes in the Washington Post that women in low-wage industries such as hospitality and health care, many of them women of color, have been hit the hardest. She also writes that in February 2020, before the pandemic, around five million women were business owners. By April, one in four had closed their doors for good. The numbers are worse now.
  • Gina M. Raimondo and Mary Kay Henry cite in the Washington Post a report from the US Department of Labor in October 2020 showing that of the 1.1 million people age twenty and older who left the workforce between August and September, 865,000, or about 86 percent, were women who dropped out of the labor force. This includes 324,000 Latina women and 58,000 Black women and is more than four times the number of men who dropped out.
  • Helaine Olen notes in the Washington Post that a study by the Center for American Progress “revealed one-third of unemployed women under the age of 40—the ‘millennial mothers’—said the reason they were not working was that they needed to mind the children.” Olen points out that “women’s workforce participation rates are now what they were in the late 1980s. Decades of women’s progress at work and at home have been wiped out in a matter of months.”
  • Wendy Wagner Robeson at the Wellesley Center for Women cites a recent Lean In study showing that “one in three mothers may be forced by the pandemic to scale back their hours or leave the workforce entirely.”
  • Research from the Undefeated Survey on Race and Health found 32 percent of Black mothers say the pandemic has had a major negative impact on their ability to pay for basic necessities like housing, utilities, and food. Pew Research data shows that the number of single Black and Hispanic mothers who are employed fell by nearly twice as much as for single white mothers.

What are the long-term implications of the pandemic for working mothers? The Center for American Progress reports that:

  • A thirty-three-year-old woman in the United States with an annual salary of $50,000 stands to lose $571,223 over her lifetime by taking five years off of work for childcare.
  • A thirty-three-year-old woman earning $50,000 per year who leaves the work force for five years can expect to lose $157, 704 in retirement assets and benefits, assuming she retires at age sixty-seven.

Helaine Olen points out that because of what’s happened to women’s employment in the pandemic, women twenty-five, forty, and even fifty years from now will be receiving smaller social security checks when they retire.

Raimondo and Henry suggest that going forward, women, particularly women of color, must have affordable pathways to higher-wage industries, subsidized college tuition, paid family leave and sick leave, and affordable quality childcare. Economic recovery depends on parents being able to work and paid a living wage. Now is the time for the United States to get systems in place to support working families. Our economy is badly damaged. Let’s do what it takes to “build it back better.”


Photo courtesy of Ran Allen (CC BY 2.0)

The History of Tipping: Why Restaurant Wages Are So Low

A long time ago I worked as a bookkeeper for several small restaurants. As I prepared payroll checks, I often wondered why servers were paid less than the minimum wage—a lot less. The current hourly wage is still very low: $2.13 per hour for restaurant servers. I never heard or read an explanation for this low wage until now. A recent article by Michelle Alexander entitled “Tipping Is a Legacy of Slavery,” really opened my eyes. She explains that she came to understand the history of tipping in the United States when she read a book by Saru Jayaraman entitled Forked: A New Standard for American Dining.

Alexander notes that “after the Civil War, white business owners, still eager to find ways to steal Black labor, created the idea that tips would replace wages.” While tipping originated in Europe as a way for aristocrats to show favor to servants as bonuses, restaurant owners in the United States mutated the idea into a way to limit pay for Black workers by defining tips as the only source of income. The Pullman Company tried to get away with this to underpay train porters who were predominantly Black, but the porters formed a union and eventually got higher pay. Restaurant workers, mostly women and disproportionately Black, were not able to unionize. In fact, Alexander explains, when the Roosevelt administration signed the first minimum wage law in 1938, it excluded restaurant workers. It was not until 1966 that a subminimum wage was formally created for tipped workers, locking the tipped workforce, which is 70 percent female and disproportionately Black and brown women, into a subminimum wage, currently $2.13 per hour. Alexander points out that the subminimum wage “continues to perpetuate both race and gender inequity today,” which has been made even worse by the pandemic. Specifically, Alexander points out that

  • A mostly female, disproportionately women of color workforce of tipped workers still faces the highest levels of harassment of any industry.
  • Women restaurant workers in the forty-three states with subminimum wage standards report twice the rate of sexual harassment as women working in the seven states that pay a full minimum wage on top of tips. These women are not as dependent on tips and feel more empowered to reject harassment.
  • The pandemic has exasperated the vulnerability of subminimum wage restaurant workers as customers now subject them to “mask harassment” in order to earn tips. With tips down 50 to 75 percent, male customers know women are desperate.
  • Before the pandemic, Black women who were tipped restaurant workers made five dollars per hour less than their white male counterparts, who more often work in fine dining establishments. Black women tend to work in casual dining restaurants where tips are lower.
  • In the pandemic nearly nine in ten Black tipped workers report their tips decreased by half or more, compared to 78 percent of workers overall.
  • In addition, tipped workers are now required to do more for less—enforcing social distancing and mask rules, which creates hostility and further reduces their tips.

The pandemic and a new president of the United States have created an opportunity to fix this egregious legacy of slavery with new minimum wage legislation, the Raise the Wage Act. This legislation will raise the minimum wage overall and fully phase out the subminimum wage for tipped workers. The restaurant industry pays millions of dollars a year to fight pay raises, but it is time that tipped workers were paid a full and fair living wage. Let’s all encourage our congressional representatives to support the Raise the Wage Act.


Photo by Danny Kang on Unsplash

Gender News: International Roundup

Several recent important moments in history for women in other countries stand out and seem important to highlight. Here are a few.


This headline in the New York Times caught my attention: “City of Paris Fined Nearly $110,000 for Appointing Too Many Women.” It seems that the first-ever woman mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo was deemed to be too successful in correcting historic imbalances in gender representation in city government. Technically, the law under which she was fined says that no more than 60 percent of appointments in a given year can be given to one gender. Her appointments of women in 2018 exceeded that percentage, but women now hold 47 percent of senior leadership positions in city government overall. Women still make up only 37 percent of top civil service jobs in the country. After centuries of male-dominated leadership in France, this fine is absurd.


Amanda Taub, writing for the New York Times, reports that women have been at the heart of a large protest movement in Poland rebelling against a court decision to ban most abortions. The large protests produced a delay from the government of the implementation of the new ban, but it could still be implemented any time. Taub explains, “Women’s demands for reproductive freedom and their calls for greater equality threaten to upend a power structure” controlled by men since the fall of Communism.


In September 2020, Swiss voters approved a law mandating paid paternity leave, making it the last country in Western Europe to do so. Switzerland has been slow to recognize gender equity. Women did not gain the right to vote until 1971 and had to get permission from their husbands to work outside the home until 1988. The new law does not apply to adoptive or same-sex parents. More work needs to be done.


I have written in past articles about the frustrations of women in the Catholic church because of the lack of leadership roles for women. Elisabetta Povoledo, writing for the New York Times, reports that “Pope Francis has changed the laws of the Roman Catholic church to formally allow women to give readings from the Bible during Mass, act as altar servers and distribute communion, but they remain barred from becoming deacons or priests.” These new roles are not new for many women in the church, especially in developing countries. While this is considered a step forward by some for the pope to formalize these roles, the lack of access to the senior leader roles of deacon or priest remains disappointing to many.


Shinzo Abe resigned in September 2020 as prime minister of Japan after serving in office for eight years. One of his most consequential unfulfilled promises was his goal of promoting women in the workforce, specifically into management roles. At the end of his eight years, this promise remains unfulfilled. Motoko Rich and Hisako Ueno report that in 2020, women held less than 12 percent of corporate management jobs and represented less than 15 percent of lawmakers in Japan’s parliament. Until more women are in parliament, significant policy changes to make childcare more available and to support women’s careers will remain unlikely. Rich and Ueno cite Megumi Mikawa as saying, “The fundamental ideas of the country are controlled by men. That’s why we don’t have any policies to really cater to ordinary people.” Unfortunately, there is no indication that the patriarchal culture of Japan is going to change any time soon.

Stay tuned—hopefully more change is on the way.


Photo by Dovile Ramoskaite on Unsplash

Biden Nominates the Most Diverse Cabinet in US History

Let’s mark this moment. As of this writing, President Joe Biden has officially nominated the most diverse cabinet in US history. If members are confirmed, this will be the first-ever gender-balanced US cabinet with 50 percent of positions (eleven positions plus Vice President Kamala Harris) held by women. Of the eleven women nominated, seven of them are women of color—another long-overdue milestone. Several men nominated are also men of color, increasing the diversity of the whole cabinet. Here are the eleven women nominated to cabinet positions that require Senate confirmation, and some other notable nominations for women. Their level of competence to serve in these positions is exciting.

Janet Yellen—Treasury Secretary

As reported in New York Magazine by Intelligencer staff, Janet Yellen will not only be the first woman to lead the Department of the Treasury but the “first person to have headed the Treasury, the central bank and the White House Council of Economic Advisers,” the three most powerful economic positions in the nation. In recent months, Yellen has expressed a willingness to use fiscal measures to stimulate economic recovery in a nation with a poverty rate above 11 percent. “This is not a good time to have fiscal policy switch from being accommodative to creating a drag,” Yellen said in October. “That’s what happened [last decade], and it retarded the recovery.”

Deb Haaland—Secretary of the Interior

Biden nominated New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland to be his pick for secretary of the interior, becoming the first Native American to lead the department that determines policy for federally owned natural resources, as well as tribal lands.

Gina Raimondo—Commerce Secretary

CNN reports that Gina Raimondo is the first woman governor of Rhode Island and has served in the role since her election in 2014. She has been praised for her leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic and for the remarkable economic turnaround she led in her state before the pandemic.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield—US Ambassador to the United Nations

New York Magazine notes that Biden named Foreign Service veteran Linda Thomas-Greenfield to the UN ambassador position. He will reestablish the role in the cabinet after his isolationist predecessor demoted it.

Jennifer Granholm—Secretary of Energy

Politico reported that Biden will name former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as the leader of the expansive Department of Energy. Her experience in Lansing from 2003 to 2011 is an asset as Biden works to speed up the transition to electric cars, among other green energy priorities.

Avril Haines—Director of National Intelligence

According to New York Magazine, Avril Haines served as the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2013 to 2015. If confirmed, she will oversee the seventeen agencies that make up the nation’s intelligence community, becoming the first woman to fill the role.

Neera Tanden—Office of Management and Budget

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Biden nominated Neera Tanden—the frequent Twitter user and president of the center-left think tank Center for American Progress—to be his OMB director.

Katherine Tai—US Trade Representative

CNBC announced that Biden nominated Katherine Tai to be the top US trade representative. Tai was a trade lawyer on China during the Obama administration. The US trade representative is responsible for developing and recommending United States trade policy to the president of the United States, conducting trade negotiations at bilateral and multilateral levels and coordinating trade policy within the government through the interagency Trade Policy Staff Committee and Trade Policy Review Group.

Marcia Fudge—Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio was selected to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Politico notes that while Fudge lobbied to be the first Black woman nominated for the post of secretary of agriculture, she has a big role to fill at HUD since this department will play a key role in the incoming administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused millions of people to fall behind on rent and mortgage payments.

Isabel Guzman—Administrator of the Small Business Administration

Ms. Magazine reports that Biden nominated the director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate, Isabel Guzman, to lead the Small Business Administration, a cabinet-level position.

Cecelia Rouse—Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors

Cecilia Rouse was a member of the Council of Economic Advisors during the Obama administration. She is an American economist and dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Other notable nominations of women to cabinet-level positions include Gina McCarthy as the White House climate czar, Jennifer Psaki as the White House press secretary, Susan Rice as the White House Domestic Policy Council director, Rochelle Walensky as the director of the CDC, and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health. Levine, if confirmed, will be the first-ever openly transgender woman to be confirmed by the Senate. Let’s give our support to these stunningly qualified women as they take on leadership of our troubled country.


Photo courtesy of John Brighenti (CC BY 2.0)

Change Is in the Air for Families and Caregivers

Once in a while, events in the country bring different interest groups into alignment to work together for structural change. It seems possible that the combination of the urgency of hardships families are experiencing wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and the narrow Senate majority established by the election of two Georgia democrats will create that possibility. As I wrote in a previous post, citing Claire Cain Miller, “Nearly everybody cares for family at some point”:

  • In two-thirds of married couples with children, both parents work.
  • Nearly half of adults in their forties and fifties are caring for both children and parents.
  • The United States is the only developed Western country that does not support working parents with national policies for paid family leave or subsidized childcare.

New legislation proposed by the Biden-Harris team “approaches the care economy in a holistic way, across the age spectrum,” says Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, in an article by Paula Span. Their plan combines Medicaid benefits for older and disabled adults, preschool funding for toddlers, and better pay and benefits for home-care and childcare workers into one package. Specifically, Span explains:

  • The Biden-Harris plan builds on earlier campaigns for paid family leave and recent efforts to rebalance Medicaid, making it more focused on covering caregiving at home for older adults rather than in dreaded nursing homes.
  • Their plan would convert “the anemic federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which mandates only unpaid leave, into 12 weeks of paid leave.”
  • It proposes a tax credit for as much as $5,000 to reimburse families for expenses associated with unpaid caregiving, such as paid help, home modifications, remote safety monitoring devices, and hearing aids.
  • It would also give family members social security credits for time out of the labor force to care for family members.

How will this caregiver package be paid for? Span notes that the Biden team asserts that the costs can be paid for over ten years “by rolling back tax breaks for real estate investors with incomes over $400,000 and increasing tax compliance for other high earners.” The Biden team also asserts that the plan will create three million new caregiving and education jobs and increase employment by five million by allowing unpaid caregivers to reenter the work force.

This kind of change is so needed but will not happen without strong support. Let’s let our congressmembers know that we support caregivers by writing and calling them to support this legislation when it comes up—and I believe that it will come up soon.


Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

Gender and Sex Discrimination in Sports: Good News for Sarah Fuller

Title IX of the Education Amendment, signed into law in 1972, “forbade institutions receiving federal funds—virtually all public schools and universities—from discriminating on the basis of gender” in organized sports, as reported by Margaret Renkl in the New York Times. Practically speaking, this meant that schools had to provide equivalent resources for sports, but they did not have to let the women and men play on the same teams. This is why the story of Sarah Fuller is so significant. Fuller was invited to step onto the field for the Vanderbilt University football team, the Commodores, in November 2020. Fully suited up in pads and team jersey, she became the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game when she performed the second-half kickoff. Renkl notes that Fuller wore her own helmet emblazoned with the words “Play Like a Girl,” the slogan of a nonprofit that promotes sports and STEM opportunities for girls.

Thanks to Title IX, Fuller had the training, skills, and confidence to step in when the team, due to the coronavirus, was left without a kicker. The Vanderbilt women’s soccer team had just won the Southeastern Conference Division I championship with Fuller as a goalkeeper with a powerful kick—and the Commodores badly needed a kicker. She received a personal tweet from Hillary Clinton saying, “Thank you, Sarah, for helping to prove that women and girls belong on every playing field—quite literally.” Why shouldn’t women and girls be able to bring their talents to any and every field, not just those designated for women and girls?

In fact, so many opportunities in sports and elsewhere are defined as “for women” or “for men” when, in reality, the lines of sex, gender, and talent are blurred and beyond these binary categories. Talents are denied rather than celebrated based on criteria that are unfair and unproven. Jeré Longman of the New York Times writes about the uproar over who can compete in certain competitions in the Olympics. Based on sex testing that arbitrarily defines which chromosomes and hormones qualify someone to run a race as a woman, Longman cites Payoshni Mitra, an Indian scholar and athlete’s rights activist, as saying that the World Athletics organization is committing human rights violations by enforcing testosterone regulation on intersex athletes like Caster Semenya of South Africa and Annet Negesa of Uganda, both talented athletes who identify as women and who are not being allowed to compete unless they agree to undergo medical intervention. Longman notes that Human Rights Watch has deemed “medically unnecessary and humiliating” medical interventions as discriminatory and racially biased, disproportionately affecting women of color when there is no scientific consensus on the precise impact of testosterone on athletic performance.

Maybe it’s time to remove these artificial barriers of sex and gender and let all people bring their talents to whatever their field of endeavor is.


Photo by John Torcasio on Unsplash

Ending Women’s Work

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare some facts about occupational segregation by gender in the United States. As I explained in a previous post,

  • Essential workers in the United States, whose jobs were deemed “too vital to be halted” during the pandemic, are overwhelmingly women.
  • The jobs of these essential workers are generally underpaid, undervalued, and unseen. Over half of all essential workers in the United States are women who are paid well below fifteen dollars an hour.

The underpaid roles of these essential works—along with other roles that are segregated by gender including, healthcare workers, childcare workers, home healthcare aides, teachers, social workers, and administrative office workers—are considered to be “women’s work” by society and, as such, less valued. These underpaid roles contribute to the gender wage gap, “a feature of every economy on earth,” as reported by Anna Louie Sussman of the New York Times. Sussman notes that clearly our efforts at achieving “pay equity” have not worked so far, and she suggests that the problem is our approach. Instead of working toward pay equity, Sussman maintains that we should be focusing on achieving “equal pay for work of equal value” to break through the wall of low pay for “women’s work.” The value of a job should be determined by skills, level of responsibility, work conditions, and degree of physical effort and be compared to the pay men get for jobs that require these same skill levels and efforts. Sussman asks, “whether a female-dominated occupation such as nursing home aide, for instance, is really so different from a male-dominated one, such as corrections officer, when both are physically exhausting, emotionally demanding, and stressful—and if not, why is the nursing home aide paid so much less?”

Sussman points to efforts in New Zealand implemented by law in November 2020, which she explains are “aimed at eliminating pay discrimination against women in female-dominated occupations.” She suggests that this new law could provide a road map to the rest of the world about how to eliminate the “seemingly intractable gender pay gap. . . . What is really at stake,” Sussman explains, “is . . . a societywide reckoning with the value of ‘women’s work.’”

Sussman notes that the idea of focusing on pay equity, or equal pay for work of equal value, is not new:

  • In 1919, the International Labor Organization proposed pay equity for women. It was ratified in 1953 by 173 countries (but the United States) but was never implemented.
  • In the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to feminist activists and scholars, the idea gained momentum in the United States but was snuffed out by the courts in 1985 in a case pushing for “comparable worth” wage standards. The courts deemed this approach to wage equity to be an interference with the free markets for labor. The Reagan administration elevated the free-market argument and stifled further efforts to gain traction with this approach.

In 2012 in New Zealand, a breakthrough occurred when Kristine Bartlett, a caregiver who worked for more than twenty years in a home for the elderly, making barely above minimum wage, filed a claim with the Employment Relations Authority against her employer. The claimant asked the court to look closely at why caring for the elderly was any less demanding and dangerous than better-paid occupations mostly performed by men, such as prison guards. The Bartlett claim was settled out of court with resulting pay increases of 15 percent to 49 percent for 55,000 workers. The settlement sparked new claims throughout the public sector from other female-dominated occupations, such as midwives, social workers, and school support staff. Subsequently,

  • In 2017, with a newly elected feminist prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, the government of New Zealand went to work on establishing principles and processes for resolving pay equity claims.
  • In 2018, a settlement on behalf of state-employed social workers demonstrated that female-dominated occupations could be evaluated in a bias-free way.
  • In November 2020, a new law in New Zealand went into effect to require the pay-equity approach to eliminating the gender pay gap.

Sussman points out that it is still not easy to apply a gender-free lens to evaluating all occupations because in the real world,

  • Value is assigned through an interplay of employer power, social beliefs and biases like racism and sexism
  • Biases must be unlearned, which is not easy

It has been easier to implement the new pay equity evaluations in the public sector occupations because the government is the employer. Sussman notes that supporters of pay equity counter the private sector argument that pay equity is not affordable by pointing out that employers are not entitled to make profits on the backs of underpaid women and businesses that can’t pay fair wages are not viable businesses.

Sussman ends by saying that now we will see “what happens when an entire society, led by a feminist prime minister, decides . . . to say yes” to pay equity. Let’s keep our eyes on this approach. New Zealand has figured out a lot—and perhaps we will have a feminist president someday who will provide the vision and the will to implement pay equity in the United States.


Photo courtesy of Army Medicine (CC BY 2.0)

Tomboy: A New Book about Gender

I got the message early in life that it was better to be a boy than a girl. I heard my parents talk about my father’s disappointment that I, his firstborn child, was a girl when he wanted a boy. I tried to be his son. I played sports with the boys in the neighborhood, and my father was proud. I climbed trees and did rough-and-tumble boy activities, and my mother was horrified. She sent me to take ballet lessons so I would be more graceful like a girl should be. I got the message but rebelled against it. I joined the neighborhood boys in throwing rocks at the boring neighborhood girls. I was called a “tomboy.”

Mary Katharine Tramontana, writing for the New York Times, interviewed Lisa Selin Davis, the author of a new book entitled Tomboy. Davis suggests that gender norms are still rigidly enforced in the United States and children learn and internalize these stereotypes by the age of six. These messages are designed to make sure that kids are straight and conform to gender norms that result in different skill sets. I remember trying to buy Lego and erector sets for the daughters of friends to encourage their development of special skills. The toys in stores were segregated by gender. The construction sets for girls were packaged in pink boxes and consisted of materials to build simple houses and castles—basically dollhouses. The sets for boys were coded blue and contained complex materials to build motorized trucks, robots, and war machines. In other words, Davis notes that gendered toys are designed to develop interpersonal relationship skills for girls and the skills of spatial relationships, problem solving, and independence for boys.

Not much has changed since the word tomboy was coined in 1556 to divide childhood into skills and traits defined as masculine and feminine. Davis tells us that historically, “girls being less ‘girly’ are historically ‘acceptable,’ if not celebrated,” as long as they become feminine by puberty to prepare for being wives and mothers. Davis notes, though, that the opposite is not true for boys. The tomboy’s counterpart for boys is the “sissy,” which “carries the homophobic and misogynistic warning to boys: Don’t be like a girl.”
The acceptable coding for gender has not always been the same. For example, Davis and Tramontana agree that for decades in the United States, pink was a boy’s color and in the nineteenth century, most boys played with dolls.

Tramontana cites Davis’s book as arguing that “American childhood is more gendered now than in recent generations.” Davis explains that in the 1970s, “U.S. feminism permeated consumer culture, and masculine styles were marketed to girls.” The reverse was never marketed to boys, however, to ensure that boys were straight. The antifeminist backlash of the Reagan era created social pressure to return to traditional gendered values.

In her book, Davis discusses ways that parents and educators can resist gendering childhood to ensure the healthy psychological development of children. One suggestion is to allow ambiguity for children’s explorations and expressions. Treat little boys who wear dresses and want nail polish as just boys wearing dresses and not as a problem. The same for girls who don’t want to wear dresses. Davis states, “It’s incredibly important for children to see ‘masculine’ girls and women and ‘feminine’ boys and men, and  to know that qualities we’ve labeled that way are not rooted in sex.”

Governments and corporations can take important steps too. For example, in Britain, advertisements cannot include gendered stereotypes, according to new rules issued by the Advertising Standards Authority. And Target no longer has gender-segregated toy aisles.

Davis states that if we embrace ambiguity, children and parents will experience a lot less distress.


Photo courtesy of Janet McKnight (CC BY 2.0)

Women on the Outside: New Global Research on Influence

An important new study conducted for the Brookings Institute by Tuugi Chuluun and Kevin L. Young provides a novel view of women’s representation in organizations around the globe. The authors, by using a new network analysis technique, note that the lack of representation of women in leadership positions in the United States is well documented: thirty-seven Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs, and only three of these CEOs are women of color.

They note that globally, many initiatives exist that promote more women to leadership and increase diversity in boardrooms and in government. “However,” Chuluun and Young state, “women, and especially women of color, remain dramatically underrepresented, and the coronavirus pandemic threatens progress we have made on this front because of gender inequality in the division of housework.”

This new study seeks to gain a more complete picture of women’s representation beyond counting the numbers of women in leadership and on boards. These authors posit that greater numbers of minority individuals, including women, in leadership may not mean greater influence in organizations and society because minority leaders may be marginalized from elite networks where influence on organizations and society is leveraged. They suggest that power and influence comes from these elite networks, where trust, cooperation, and information is shared. Their analysis identifies the group of organizational leaders within the network who are more connected to one another at the center of the analysis and compares them to the peripheral nodes that are loosely interconnected.

Why do networks matter? The authors explain that “a woman who is on the board of a powerful organization with global reach . . . is not likely to be as powerful as the woman who is on the board of several organizations, all of which are densely connected to yet more powerful people.” These densely connected people are the global elite. The authors examined the dynamics of board ties across organizations to study interrelationships among elites and how an individual’s connections and position in the elite network relate to their gender and race. Their study analyzed 1,600 individuals who serve as board members in nearly one hundred globally prominent organizations, including the largest corporations, think tanks, and NGOs like the World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund.


The authors’ report shows that women of all racial groups are marginalized at the periphery of these power networks and are not part of the “inner circles” where greater power and influence reside. They note, “Women—and non-white women in particular—are proportionately more confined to peripheral positions within the network.” In fact,

  • Representation of white males increases when moving from the periphery to the core
  • For women, their representation declines when moving toward the core

The authors conclude that as this is true for women of all racial groups, it appears that gender is the most significant determinant of who is in the “core” of the elite networks. Even though being white offers significant advantages in professional settings, representation for white women declines precipitously at the core of elite networks.

Why does women’s inclusion or exclusion from elite networks matter? The authors suggest that

  • Decisions are impacted by backgrounds and cognitive biases
  • Gender is a pervasive social institution that informs the way people process information and make decisions
  • The lack of women’s influence in the decision-making of elite circles has global implications for policy, mobilization of resources, and power that affect societies
  • Diversity among leadership affects the financial performance of organizations

As long as women remain on the periphery of elite networks, their power and influence on organizations and society remain limited. We need women to finally be integrated into the inner circles of power. Studies like this one shine light into the dark corners of power and open possibilities for change.


Photo courtesy of Michigan Municipal League (CC BY-ND 2.0)

More Cracks in the Glass Ceiling and Some Rising Stars

It is always exciting when new barriers are broken by women. Kim Ng and Erika James recently became the first Asian American and woman of color, respectively, appointed in their roles, and Abby Phillip and Savannah Guthrie are being recognized as rising stars. What follows is some information about their accomplishments.

For the first time ever, a woman, Kim Ng, has ascended to the role of full-time general manager of a major league men’s baseball team, the Miami Marlins. Tyler Kepner and James Wagner of the New York Times report that Ng is only the second person of Asian descent, after Farhan Zaidi of the San Francisco Giants, to lead a baseball operations department. Her parents were both United States citizens of Chinese descent.

Kepner and Wagner note that Ng’s inspirations were Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. Ng admires that King fought for equality, and Navratilova “changed the idea of what it looked like to be a female athlete.” Ng intends to continue setting an example for other minorities and women. She notes, “You can’t be it if you can’t see it.”

The next trailblazer is Erika James, the first woman and the first person of color to be appointed dean of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in the school’s 139 year history. As a change in direction, Wharton hired James to integrate diversity and inclusion, inequality, climate change, immigration, and the role of business in society into the curriculum of the business school. David Gelles, writing for the New York Times cites James as saying, “The conversations in the classrooms are changing because the students are asking for it. Their expectation is that . . . we’re going to have coursework and reading material and discussions on corporate social responsibility.” Gelles explains that as the nation’s oldest business school, the Wharton School has an outsize influence on shaping the culture of corporate America. James is leading a much needed change in the shaping of corporate culture.

Abby Phillip is a rising star at CNN. As a reporter for the Washington Post until 2017, she was a national political reporter covering the White House. After leaving the Post, she became a CNN political correspondent covering the 2020 election where her intellect, courage, and interviewing skills came into public view. Katherine Rosman writes that Phillip, like many female reporters of color, “suffered particular public ridicule” by President Trump, who told her during a press conference that she asked “a lot of stupid questions.” Phillip never lost her focus on asking the hard questions that needed to be asked, including when she moderated a debate between Democratic presidential candidates where she challenged Senator Bernie Sanders for saying that Senator Elizabeth Warren could not win the election because she was a woman. “Why did you say that?” she asked. On November 6, while anchoring the election returns with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, both senior correspondents for CNN, Phillip, age thirty-one, announced that the vote tallies coming in from Georgia and Pennsylvania in favor of Joe Biden were because of Black women. “Black women did that,” she announced. Bash reflected that in that moment, she knew a star was being born as Phillip’s intellect and style were on full display.

Savannah Guthrie also gained prominence during the presidential election. Already an established television host of a popular news program, the Today Show, she gained wider recognition by conducting a last-minute interview with President Trump when he cancelled the second presidential debate with Joe Biden. Sridhar Pappu of the New York Times writes that Guthrie did what many thought impossible: she “humbled, even humiliated, a man who had steamrolled his way to power, belittling journalists along the way.” Guthrie relentlessly pursued Trump with well-informed follow-up questions that challenged his lies and demanded to know why he was retweeting conspiracy theories. Most famously she said to him, “You’re the president. You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.” It seems that NBC is taking new notice of her toughness and skill.

Let us wish these female trailblazers luck as they take on new roles and challenges. And let’s support them whenever we can.


Photo courtesy of Anthony Quintano (CC BY 2.0)