Women and the leadership gap: Post-feminism is dead

Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake, wrote on the lack of women in leadership positions on The Daily Beast. The post begins with this question:

It’s been almost a half-century since the modern women’s movement began. So why aren’t more women in positions of power?

Bennetts begins with the contraceptions hearings in congress where Rep. Carolyn Maloney made news by asking: Where are the women?

Bennetts writes:

Throughout American society, the dramatic underrepresentation of women at the top remains the norm, despite widespread misconceptions to the contrary….The truth is that men continue to run most major institutions and make most of the important political, executive, policy and other decisions in the United States. And as demonstrated by the current battle over contraceptive coverage in health insurance, the dearth of women decision-makers often results in policies that fail to serve women’s needs, let alone the larger goal of equality….

“Women remain hugely underrepresented at positions of power in every single sector across this country,” said Barnard College president Debora Spar at a White House conference on urban economic development last month.

“We have fallen into what I call the 16 percent ghetto, which is that if you look at any sector, be it aerospace engineering, Hollywood films, higher education, or Fortune 500 leading positions, women max out at roughly 16 percent,” Spar said. “That is a crime, and it is a waste of incredible talent”… Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard. “We made great progress on the rights front in the 1970’s, and life has changed significantly, but progress for women has plateaued in rights, in leadership, and in the ability to contribute equally in social and cultural affairs.”

Here are more stats from the post:

Women are 51% of the U.S. population

17% of U.S. senators are  women

16.8% of House of Representatives are women

3 Justices out of 9 on the Supreme Court are women

6 Governors out of 50 are women (12%)

23.6% of state legislators are women

9% of Mayors are women in largest 100 cities in U.S.

U.S. ranks 71st in the world in female legislative representation, behind Bangladesh, Sudan and United Arab Emirates

Over half of college graduates but less than a quarter of full professors and a fifth of college presidents are female

Women are one third of M.B.A. classes and 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs

6 % of top earners

16 %t of board directors and corporate officers

Women are 50% of new entrants to the profession, but less than a fifth of law firm partners, federal judges, law school deans, and Fortune 500 general counsels

In the financial services industry, 57 percent of the workers are women but 1.5 percent of the CEO’s are female

Women are 50% of divinity students but 3 percent of the pastors of large congregations in protestant churches that have been ordaining women for decades

95% of top grossing Hollywood films directed by men

In 84 years, 4 women have been nominated for best director, only one has won

2012 Academy Award nominations, 98% movies directed by men, 84%  written by men, 70% starring men

77 percent of Oscar voters are male.

5 thoughts on “Women and the leadership gap: Post-feminism is dead

  1. I forwarded your post (“Women and the Leadership Gap) on to my two daughters who are both architects, as are both my husband and I. Between the three of us women we definitely have some two-generation familiarity with these vexing political and cultural phenomena. My older daughter and I are both Barnard graduates and I can attest to Barnard’s unwaivering advocacy for women in all facets of life. Back when I went to graduate school in Architecture the proportion of women to men was approximately 1 in 10 or 1 in 12 and many qualified women were not admitted as a result of the unspoken quota. The Old Boy network was strong. The proportion of women students in Architecture school is now approximately 50% but the field – both in academia and the profession – still suffers from a presumed male orientation and an at times unthinking deference to male opinion, regardless of the acumen or authority of the person proferring the opinion! Over the years, I’ve often found less resistance from the male construction crew on a project than from fellow professionals.

    • Hi Linda,

      About five years ago when I was writing about these same issues but pre-blogging or FB, I got comments about people worried about boys. More girls graduate college and high school, girls getter better grades, female students will soon surpass males in med school, law school, and then what? It seems like what’s happening is we have more educated females, but no more females in power positions. When I recently blogged about women artists, I got a few comments like “there are just as many females as males in my art school.” But what happens beyond school?

      Congrats for have such a high achieving family!


  2. Mainly, it is TIME. Women only began to reach parity in earning college degrees 20 years ago, and graduate degrees 10 years ago. It takes TIME to work your way up the ladder when a smaller candidate pool of women is competing with a larger candidate pool of men limited number of leadership positions.

    Thanks to the fact that over 60% of college graduates are now women, and over 50% of law and business school graduates are women, in 20 years you are going to see these numbers change. It already has in the black community. The number of black females’ earning college and graduate degrees surpassed the same for black males decades ago, and for that reason the percentage of black females in leadership positions – as compared to their black male counterparts – are far higher than white females and males. Michele above mentioning electing a black president: to be honest that masks the reality, because were we discussing a workplace instead of politics, Michelle Obama would be far more likely to be in management while Barack Obama would far more likely be a janitor or truck driver for that firm.

    As far as Hollywood goes, that is a closed industry that is not representative of America and furthermore is not based on anything resembling a meritocracy (for instance one can have graduate degrees from the best film programs and several years of experience in theater, local television or whatever and still get ignored for musicians, athletes, comedians etc. with no formal training for the few opportunities) I fail to see the relevance. “In the financial services industry, 57 percent of the workers are women but 1.5 percent of the CEO’s are female” is far more relevant, but again, even that is going to change, because 20 years from now the candidate pool of women for advancement is going to be huge, and the male candidate pool (43% and shrinking) will be so small that affirmative action programs for males will be considered (as some colleges have already begun to quietly practice, especially black colleges, where males make up as few as 1/4 of the students).

  3. Here’s one explanation: lack of child care and healthcare. In most other countries with large numbers of women in power, you have generous maternal (and paternal) leave policies, and state sponsored health care. This means women aren’t forced to choose between careers and caring for their families. So many bright ambitious women I know in the States have quit work in their early 30s, the time when men are starting to make serious career progress , because they couldn’t afford child care, or because they had to care for an elderly relative. Now, why it’s typically the wife who makes this choice rather than the husband is another question, but it’s clear that affordable health care and child care gives women options for career success that they would otherwise lack. Of course, if there are no women in power to make affordable child and health care a priority, you end up with a vicious circle.

  4. I think there are a variety of factors at play with respect to this issue. One is that I think there are still a lot of people out there who simply don’t believe that women are still being kept down in any way. They thing everything’s fine and that the revolution has already happened and nothing more needs to be done (it’s the same conundrum in which some say racism is over because we’ve elected a black president). They’re okay with the status quo and believe women who are still trying to effect change are wasting their time. I also have seen firsthand how many women don’t support other women. While the Women in the World Conference just finished in NYC, there are still women who are hard core, anti-feminists. It never ceases to amaze me.

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