America needs more women leaders
We should all be glad about women adding their own ingredients to the recipe of great leadership
“You’ve come a long way, baby, to get where you’ve got to today,” so sang a 1968 ad targeting women with a new cigarette named Virginia Slims. The ditty ended, “You’ve got your own cigarette now, baby, you’ve come a long, long way.” The campaign was hugely successful.
It was not lost on this then-teenaged feminist – now Baby Boomer career woman, wife, stepmom and grandmother – that the ad co-opted the feminist movement to sell cigarettes to women by suggesting how much they’d achieved because they could now smoke cigarettes openly.
It’s also not lost on me that women in this country haven’t come nearly far enough. Given March is Women’s History Month, let’s consider how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.
As of 2020, America ranked 53rd out of 153 countries in women's political leadership – well behind our neighbors to the north (Canada ranked 19th) and south (Mexico ranked 25th). The U.S. was even further behind Nicaragua, Namibia, and Rwanda, which were in the top 10.
We've increased our representation in Congress by nearly 6% since 2018, but still make up only 26.5% in 2023. And it’s taken a long time to achieve that. Of the 12,415 people to serve in Congress since 1789, only 3% have been women. The news is encouraging today at the cabinet level, with the current administration approximately 45% women. That’s been a long haul, too. At the beginning of the 21st century, just 5% of cabinet positions throughout history had been held by women.
The gender leadership gap in the corporate world is also significant. While women made up 58.4% of the U.S. workforce as of September 2022, they held only 35% of senior leadership positions. Only 15% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. This despite research that shows companies with women executives are 30 percent more likely to outperform other companies. Corporate boards are comprised of only 28% women.
The top two reasons given by both women and men as to why there aren’t more women in top business positions are:
- Women are held to higher standards (according to 52% of women and 33% of men.)
- Businesses aren’t ready to hire women in top positions (per 50% of women and 35% of men.)
Today’s military is more gender-integrated than at any time in the past. Women are no longer excluded from any type of combat mission. Still, they remain just 16% of the total force. Senior leadership reflects even more work to be done. Only about 6% of four-star generals have been women, including the period after the glass ceiling was shattered. There has not yet been a female member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or a female secretary or deputy secretary of defense.
While politics, business and the military have seen significant recent gains in narrowing the gender leadership gap, law enforcement appears to have stalled since 2000. Women make up only 8.3% of all police chiefs and less than 13% of all law enforcement officers in 2021.
Men and women lead differently. I'm not as interested in the why of this – whether it's from different learned social roles or biology – as I am in the fact of it. Women tend to be collaborative; men tend to be competitive.
In 1990, Sally Helgesen replicated a study on women leaders in the workplace that Henry Mintzberg had previously done on men. Mintzberg found the male executives worked at an unrelenting pace with little time spent on other activities, controlled information and were singularly task oriented. In contrast, Helgesen found the women executives shared information, emphasized inclusion and cooperation, and had a networking rather than an authoritarian style.
In politics, broad representation of women has a significant impact on what issues are raised and how policies are shaped.
Business management guru Tom Peters, co-author of the best-selling “In Search of Excellence,” told men who wished to succeed in the information age and a global economy to study women's ways of leadership. John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene, authors of “Reinventing the Corporation,” “Megatrends” and “Megatrends 2000,” said the most successful companies in the future would be those that aggressively hired, trained and promoted women.
A study of the Chicago Police Department published in 2021 in "Science" found that female officers use less force than male officers. Female officers also are less likely to be the subject of citizen complaints, according to a 2008 study published in the Law Enforcement Executive Forum. Other research also shows that women are more skilled at assessing the policing needs of diverse communities and get better outcomes for victims of sexual assault.
“For all of those reasons, it’s important to have women as part of the workforce,” said Kym Craven, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives.
We should all be glad about women adding their own ingredients to the recipe of great leadership – inclusion; effective communication across lines of authority, gender, race and ethnicity; and relationship building. It will be good for the world, our country and our daughters.
It will also be good for our sons. A Harvard medical study of high school boys found that 96% think they should be completely self-assured, 76% believe they should always be ready for sex and 24% think they'll lose respect if they talk about their problems. That's a tough road to manhood. Where do boys go with their feelings of sadness, disappointment and fear? With women as leader role models, men may feel it's alright to bring their emotional intelligence and caring side to the leadership table.
After 37 years of military service, General Lori J. Robinson retired in 2018 as commander of the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). She was the first woman in U.S. history to lead a combatant command. She observed,
Our nation needs diverse voices around the table. Whether it is a CEO’s table, the Joint Chiefs table, or the cabinet of the United States, a diversity of thought, background, heritage, race, and gender all add to the capability of any leader to make a decision. It makes our nation stronger and better.”
Likewise, whether it’s walking a beat in a neighborhood or at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference, diverse leadership makes our communities stronger and better.
NEXT: Recruitment and retention hurdles facing female police officers