Every time I hear that conservative complaint, “Government is the problem,” I think, “Well, you created it, gentlemen.”
When Congress convened this year, it did so with a record 108 women, which represents about 15% of total membership. Why don’t we set a goal of doubling that percentage? The 30% figure has a special significance that I will explain later, but first let’s look at some reasons why it may be possible.
For one thing, according to a Gallup poll, the approval rating of Congress dropped to 14% two months before the election, the lowest rate preceding an election in 40 years. Virtually everyone is feeling disgusted with the institution. The election brought some big changes, but maybe not the ones that Americans really want.
The evidence of a general receptivity to feminine leadership in both government and corporate America comes from a number of places. One is a study published in January by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank. Here are some interesting findings quoted almost verbatim from “Women and Leadership.”
- According to the majority of Americans, women are every bit as capable as men of being good political leaders.
- Most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying that women are stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organized.
- Approximately four times as many people think women are better at compromise than men are.
- Women are perceived to be more honest and ethical than men.
Fancy that. I had no idea that we were held in such high regard. Further detail adds to the impression that we are “comers.” As evidence of drive and ambition, women have outnumbered men in both college enrollment and completion rates since the 1990s.
The 30% figure I mentioned at the outset comes from a new movement in the corporate world (the 30% Club) to increase representation by women on boards of directors. It was launched in London by a money manager named Helena Morrissey. Now there is a chapter of the 30% Club in New York as well as in Hong Kong, South Africa, and Ireland. Apparently, research by respected consulting firms like McKinsey & Company has revealed that, as a result of “fresh thinking,” more diverse boards provide better shareholder returns.
Clearly Congress could do with some fresh thinking too, and that 30% goal for feminine representation sounds reasonable. What’s good for business could be good for government. Every time I hear that complaint, “Government is the problem,” I always think, “Well, you created it, gentlemen.”
This will, of course, be challenging. Women typically do not have the resources and the connections needed to run successfully against well-funded male counterparts. This is especially true among conservative candidates. For example, 79 of the women in Congress are Democrats and only 29 are Republican.
Since we need some fresh thinking, however, perhaps we should consider fundraising targeted at women for the benefit of women. And if women are so much better at compromise, then the party affiliation does not matter much. We’d just be going for the 30%–for now.
So the door seems to be opening for women at a time in history when we really need a new quality of leadership. One last point from the Pew Research Center may help with perspective: 73% of those polled expect to see a female president in their lifetime. Amazing.
One must be realistic about the immediate possibilities, however, and much needs to be done to prepare for larger responsibilities. And how would the feminine focus in Congress be different? My next blog will discuss some possibilities.