Update: Last night, Joe Biden announced in a national debate that he would appoint a woman as his Vice President. Should he become President this November it would be considered a win and, while it doesn’t replace a Presidential position, would help further the cause of more women at higher levels with organizations.
The Ongoing Struggles & Path Forward To The Genderification of American Leadership
It took waking up on the other side of planet earth (i.e., away from the daily barrage of media coverage on U.S. primaries) for me to step back and realize how unadvanced, in some important ways, America really is. I speak, specifically, here as it relates to gender and Presidential politics. There will be, yet again, no woman President in 2020. What’s more disheartening is that no woman will lead either party’s nomination to even compete for the Office of POTUS.
America has had a black president and, I predict, will have a gay one before it will decide to elect a woman President. Both historic accomplishments are, or soon will be, more about the success of men in our society. What does this say about our American culture?
Why didn’t Amy Klobacher stick and prevail over Joe Bidden? Let’s be honest Joe, who bumbles publicly by often blundering during debates and making comments without thinking, is a second-or-third choice candidate for most voters. Amy was sensible, had relevant experience and was in many ways a more practical, less error-prone, moderate for Democrats.
Furthermore, why didn’t Elizabeth Warren persist and steamroll over stodgy Bernie Sanders? She was a more realistic progressive who, at least, had a financial plan to pay for some of her social welfare programs.
Suffice it to say, neither candidate was running against the charismatic Barack Obama. It’s also not the case that these women failed to have what either Bernie or Joe have to contend for the Oval office. They do. I tend to believe we failed these women candidates. By “we”, I mean the establishment, the American electorate and, we, the people.
America just doesn’t have the appetite – our culture is simply not ready – to elect its first woman President. This is happening in a country that talks an awful lot about diversity, equality and freedom of choice. It’s where feminism has been on an accelerated rise of empowerment since the last election. Where we are told several times a day by media, leaders and movements that women are thriving in America. Why isn’t the enormity of this movement paying off for more women, especially for those at the highest level of power?
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying or misconstrue the point here. As mentioned, it is well documented how, and I would absolutely agree, women seem to be making progress. All I am asking is, “Why hasn’t all of this progress translated into a woman becoming the U.S. President?” Shouldn’t this time of great progress be “the time” for women to ascend to the Presidency?
Most commentators I read on the subject invariably cite, and talk much about, two “go-to”, resources. From my standpoint, both deserve credit for inspiring millions of women.
However, why hasn’t “Lean In” – one of the two sources mentioned above – prepared more women for executive leadership? Doesn’t the President lead the executive branch of our government? Sheryl Sandberg is also an executive leader, and herself a board member, at a hi-tech company. One, I would add, our culture has idolized for most of the past decade. At least since their IPO in 2012. Ms. Sandberg has prospered in an industry that, media darling or not, I would say has done a phenomenal job of mostly “pacifying” women.
Data, according to Statista, backs up my statement. In a report released last month the research firm says, “The technology sector is further away from achieving gender equality than the U.S. economy as a whole.” At Facebook, specifically, a mere 23% of women take on technical roles and only 37% of all their employees are women. Adding further insult to injury, FB actually touts their employment record. They do so because FB, by comparison, is 1 percent to 3 percent better than other tech firms on measures of gender diversity.
Since when has it become acceptable for companies to compare with other businesses who lower the bar on key performance metrics? The mentality seems to be, “The whole sector is pathetic, but we suck less.” That’s brilliant! We would expect nothing less from our most progressive businesses (sarcasm intended). The lack of representation makes you wonder why anyone would ever idolize a sector, company or executive from this type of organization. Why do we allow this to happen?
Fixating on hi-tech companies with such limitations and hoping for what are insignificant gains, is like focusing on the weaknesses and limitations of women themselves. We can do better, so much better. Here’s a novel idea (sarcasm again) to help get us started. Let’s employ a strategy these startups are legendary for using and “pivot” our coverage by giving credit to industries, and companies, where more representative shares of women are able to realize success and can maximize their upside potential.
Although many commentators have, I am not calling out Ms. Sandberg’s leadership. She deserves credit for excelling in a difficult environment. The purpose of asking these questions is to help soul-searching women dig deeper to find more answers, thus improving their situations. With that in mind, let’s go one level down and briefly explore our executive-leadership challenge. If we can reveal the extent of the challenge, it may help improve the genderification of politics in America.
Contrary to what the media implies and we read into it, Sheryl Sandberg did not create executive leadership. Business schools, specifically MBA programs, did. Continuing your search for answers here will uncover gender imbalances among student populations in Higher Ed. When gaps in populations are proportional they are expected and considered normal. In government parlance, this is known as fair-share representation. When gaps are disproportional, as they are for women in MBA enrollments, representation is not what you would expect.
Here’s an example to illustrate more of what I mean. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), up to two-thirds, or 67%, of college undergraduates are now women compared to men; yet only 34%, on average, of all MBA enrollments actually come from women. Since having a 4-year degree is a requirement for grad school enrollment, it is reasonable to expect the percentage of women MBA enrollments to be twice (2x) what it currently is. It’s important to note that 33% gap (i.e., between bachelor-degree holders and master’s level) is unique to the MBA. Enrollments of women in other graduate-degree programs make up 60 percent or more of incoming students. These, rather than MBA enrollments, are a valid indication of fair-share representation which also factors merit into decisions of acceptance.
The net result is that MBA educational institutions are disregarding 33% of the market and, unfortunately, this entire segment is comprised of women. As mentioned above, the same “I suck less” comparisons are made between, and among, MBA schools as they are in tech sector.
It’s as though business schools themselves lack confidence in what they are supposed to instill through learning to their students (i.e., to educate and prepare women for managerial and executive leadership roles.) This denial and failure “to do” befalls most institutions, including the elites such as Harvard. As a result, rather than lead, MBA schools mostly fail to lead more women.
To remedy the problem, our institutions need to act upon this disconnect and the reality that more women are better educated than men. An updated mindset would free institutions to recruit more women, leading to more enrollments. As they educate more female students, the value of an MBA credential, which includes increased confidence, would serve to prepare more women for managerial and executive leadership positions. If fair-share representation were applied across all types of leadership development, from corporate mentors to Harvard Law, it would likely increase the chances of one woman becoming President.
The other “go-to” resource, frequently cited, that has been instrumental in helping the women’s movement advance is #Metoo. Amazing as their following has been, why hasn’t #MeToo moved the needle forward ever so slightly enough to advance a woman to the Office of President? Didn’t U.S. politics help create the foundation underlying this movement? Presidential politics certainly gave the movement momentum and drove hundreds of millions, if not billions, of talking points. Why, therefore, isn’t #Metoo enough to push women to the top? Many commentators view the #Metoo movement as stuck in the first phase when it’s time for the second iteration or third release.
Irrespective of such evaluations, I feel #MeToo and future, like-minded, movements need to both recognize and mobilize their influence. By doing more to organize rallying calls, not only cries, for progress they can effectively move from reacting to situations imposed upon them by others to being even more proactive for themselves. In doing so they serve the cause, and very bright futures, of more women.
In closing, we should ask ourselves, why did Hillary Rodham Clinton come closer to the Presidency four years ago than any woman candidate did in 2020? And, how can we prevent this from happening again?
The American public should not overlook 2020 as a seemingly minor digression. Also, women should not accept, yet again, being denied their rights to Presidential power. Other cultures and countries, which we would consider to be far less advanced in their feminist movements, have prevailed by electing women Prime Ministers and Chancellors to lead their nations.
We should never underestimate how Ms. President in the Oval Office leads to game-changing value created for all women. To achieve this goal, we must we ask, even demand, more from our institutions, our leaders and our movements. It will take confidence, initiative and resourcefulness from us all. It comes with a willingness to accept risks and expose more of ourselves throughout the process.
As I recognize International Women’s Day outside of the United States, I think about what Kate Sheppard did for the women’s movement here, as I write this piece, in New Zealand. In 1893, it became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote. Anyone who’s been to New Zealand knows it’s a get-it-done type of culture. May this experience, and others like it, reinforce in us the realization and importance of talking less and doing more for women. We have four years to get it done.