We Have A Women’s Leadership Problem

From #MeToo and the allegations against Harvey Weinstein to rescinding women’s health care coverage, the status of women in America is concerning. The sexual assault allegations and the Congressional health care bills have something in common other than blatant sexism--a power struggle resulting in an abuse of power by men.

So you see, the women’s leadership problem is not that we have ineffective women leaders, it’s that we don’t have female leaders at all. Broadly, women make up only 19.6% of the United States Congress. Virginia has never had a female governor, and similar to the national level, only 19.3% of the Virginia General Assembly members are women. If this doesn’t bother you, think of it this way: these legislative bodies are supposed to be representative of the entire U.S. population, which is 50% women. How can a body of 19% women effectively advocate for and represent the voices of 50% of the population? We are leaving our health, well-being, professional success--our livelihoods--in the hands of men, who have never had the lived experiences of women.

How can we change this?

1. Foster women in leadership

Women make up only 29% of the science and engineering workforce. In recent years, women in STEM have gained a lot of media attention due to the overall lack of women in the fields. Women in STEM initiatives, including Million Women Mentors and even Legos with the creation of their women-in-STEM kits, have been successful in educating girls about math, science and technology. In terms of public office, organizations such as Emily’s List are encouraging females to run for office, supporting their campaigns, and advocating for positive women’s policies. More women in politics means steps towards shattering the glass ceiling through women-focused policies regarding healthcare, education and equal pay. Coalition building and the concept of women supporting other women is essential to the leadership problem.  

                                            Via College Raptor


Related: This Company Is Selling Faux Feminism and We're Not Buying It


2. Tackle gender stereotypes

In an episode of the “Good Life Project” podcast, author Caroline Paul said:

“You can’t ask a guy to respect women and also tell him that the attributes women have are bad. It just doesn’t make sense.”

One “bad” attribute she refers to is weakness, and the use of the gendered terms “pussy” or “like a girl” to describe weakness in men. Our society teaches leadership in masculine standards, causing the automatic degradation of any stereotypical female characteristics such as empathy or family-orientedness. We have even put negative feminine labels on masculine qualities. We call a firm female leader “bossy” or “bitchy” rather than “no-nonsense” or “tough.” Basic awareness of gendered language, behaviors and expectations in the workplace is the first step in combating the issues.

                                                      Via Adweek

3. Be fearless

Women tend to be more risk-averse than men. This is a relatively easy thing to change at the grassroots level. Schools and universities need to encourage their female students to take risks just as often as male students do. Release expectations of perfection so often put on women and embrace the possibility of failure because, with failure comes knowledge and room for improvement. Go out and apply for something you may not be 100% qualified for. Run for office! Take the lead on a group project. Walk your daily life with a sense of confidence (even if you have to fake it a little). Be fierce. But also don’t be afraid to show your true self, too. The world needs more empathetic leaders who value human connection in order to foster a more equal and compassionate society.

                                                       Via NBC News

Should you feel so inspired to confront the patriarchy and start building your coalition of intelligent leaders, I invite George Mason University students to attend the GMU Women’s Leadership Conference. It will take place on Friday November 3rd from 10am-2:30pm in the MIX Space in Fenwick Library. For more information, visit the Facebook page and RSVP here.