I recently met a woman from India while we both waited for a train. The first question she asked me was, “Why have you never elected a woman leader in the United States, as we have done in India?” All I could say was, “That’s a good question.” She went on to ask, “Do you think Hillary Clinton will win the election this time? Is the United States ready yet for a woman leader?” I truthfully answered, “I really don’t feel confident that we are ready. The facts are not very encouraging—and I hope I’m wrong.” In a recent article in the New York Times, Bryce Covert cited these discouraging facts:
- There has not yet been a woman elected to the White House.
- The US Congress is less than 20 percent female.
- In 2009, the year after Hillary Clinton conceded the nomination for president to Barack Obama, 13.5 percent of the top jobs in Fortune 500 companies were occupied by women. By 2013, that number rose to only 14.6 percent.
- Women and minorities usually make it to corporate leadership in times of crisis.
- They face backlash and added challenges once they get there that men don’t face.
What We Can Do to Help Pave the Way for Women LeadersBecause all change has to start with ourselves, we can take steps to fix these problems:
- Support women’s leadership in general. Remember, studies show that both women and men prefer having men as leaders, so we can reverse this trend by starting to be more supportive, in general, of women leaders at all levels and positions.
- Notice your own reflex reactions to quickly judge or feel uncomfortable with women leaders. I recently caught myself starting to be critical of a book by a well-known woman. I challenged myself to look for the value in the book, and I found plenty of value. Challenge yourself to ask, “What else could be true?” when you find yourself with an urge to negatively judge a woman.
- Whatever your political persuasion, challenge others when they judge a woman candidate as too aggressive, too ambitious, strident, or angry. These were many of the negative adjectives, often expressed by women, that were used to describe Hillary Clinton when she ran in 2008. Challenge people to speak about qualifications, facts, and issues, instead of personal characteristics.