Recently, a photo of the House Freedom Caucus tweeted by Vice President Mike Pence went viral. The caucus, which discussed no longer requiring insurance plans to cover benefits such as maternity and newborn care, lacked a particular demographic. The photo featured 25 men discussing women’s health care.
Not a single woman was present. Twitter users were quick to point this out.
While it might have been shocking to see a group of men deciding the fate of health care for women and newborns, new data from Pew Research Center reminds us that we shouldn’t be so shocked to see women underrepresented in leadership.
While 2016 boasted of multiple historic milestones for women – Hillary Clinton became the first female nominee of a major political party, and Kellyanne Conway the first woman to successfully run a presidential campaign – women still have a long way to go before reaching proportional representation in the political and business spheres.
The number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives has nearly doubled since 1994. But the percentage of female representatives has never cracked 20 percent in the past 100 years, since Jeanette Rankin (R-MT) served as the first woman in Congress.
The Senate does just slightly better, having reached a record high of 21 women in its ranks. In the Trump administration, one in five Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions are filled by women, compared to a peak of 40.9 percent under President Clinton.
At a state level, women are moderately more represented, with nearly one-quarter of state legislature seats filled by women. But only four states – New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Rhode Island – have female governors. Washington, D.C., has a female mayor. Twenty-three states have never had a woman serve as governor.
Why so few women in top positions of power? The public perception of the question might surprise you. Pew Research asked survey respondents what is holding women back from top political offices. According to the respondents, women aren’t lacking in top positions because they don’t have the fortitude; only eight percent said that women aren’t tough enough for the jobs. It’s not due to raising children either; fewer than one in five respondents said that family responsibilities don’t leave enough time for women to pursue political careers.
Instead, nearly 40 percent of survey respondents said that women are hindered because they are held to higher standards than men. Likewise, over a third said that America is simply not ready to elect female leaders to top positions. Despite this pessimism, most don’t see things staying this way for long. In fact, three-quarters of Americans expect to see a female president in their lifetime.
This shouldn’t come as a shock when you consider the vast majority of Americans feel that women are equal to, or better, than men when it comes to key areas of political skill. Sixty-eight percent of the Pew survey respondents said that men and women are equal when it comes to working to improve U.S. quality of life, and 26 percent said women do better.
Likewise, 55 percent of respondents said men and women are equal in working out compromises, and 34 percent said women excelled in that area. Thirty-four percent said women were more honest and ethical, while 62 percent said there was no difference. In response to each of these questions, only tiny minorities said men had the advantage.
Although women have been vastly underrepresented in our nation’s politics for so long, the overall trend is ticking up. Public opinion is on the verge of becoming more accepting of women in power. It’s time to start thinking about the next generation of female leaders. The first female governor of your state might currently be drawing on your walls with a crayon while you read this article.
Historically, women in politics have few role models to serve as guides on their climb to top, but today’s girls have more than ever. The more we expose our sons and daughters to successful women in positions of power, the easier it will be for them to accept, even assume, that women are capable of being both family and career minded, caring and ambitious.
Too often, important political meetings are comprised of only men, even when discussing women’s issues. Yet despite what that photo of the House Freedom Caucus may lead us to believe, women are slowly gaining better representation in key positions of leadership.
Next time you see a young girl donning a pink dress and tiara, remind her that princesses did a lot more than host tea parties. They grew up to lead countries as well.