In 2005, the women of Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first female president of an African nation, and we can learn a lot by examining how they did it. In a recent article for the New York Times, Helene Cooper, a reporter who grew up in Liberia before immigrating to the United States in 1980, tells the story of how Liberian women got Sirleaf elected, highlighting valuable lessons for American women.
Where are the senior women scholars? Universities have been concerned about the underrepresentation of women at senior tenured levels for more than twenty years, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. I wrote about several studies seeking to explain this dearth of senior women scholars in a previous article. In response to the underrepresentation of women, many of these institutions implemented gender-neutral family-friendly policies in the 1990s. Justin Wolfers, an economist writing for the New York Times, reports new research on the careers of economists in the United States that shows surprising, unintended consequences of these policies for female economists.
Every so often things happen in the world that, for a moment, make underlying biases and stereotypes visible that are usually underground and hard to see. I believe this happened in the United States with the subtle, and not-so-subtle, emergence of racism when Barack Obama ran for president, was elected, and tried to govern. I believe gender bias and sexism are emerging now with the first-ever nomination of a woman, Hillary Clinton, by a major party for the presidency in the United States, and with the election of Theresa May as Britain’s new prime minister.
Therese Huston has written an important new book: How Women Decide: What’s True, What’s Not and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices. The book combines her own research with a comprehensive review of literature on gender differences in decision making. Some of her findings disprove stereotypes about gender differences, while others confirm and explain differences in decision making between women and men.
To address these differences, Huston offers decision-making strategies for women. She notes, “Books with advice on decision making for men can be terrible for women. . . . Women need their own playbook.” This is the best playbook on decision making for women I have seen. Here are some of the findings and strategies that stood out for me.
One of the most enduring myths about women is that women are mean to each other and undermine each other at work because of the Queen Bee Syndrome. Some women do have stories of sabotage by another woman at work. My research, published in my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, found examples of this type of behavior between women but also identified ways that organizational systems set women up against each other.
Even though women make up close to half of all law school graduates, Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe notes that a gaping gender gap exists in the legal profession. She speculates that it could be the long hours required by large firms, the male-dominated culture of those firms, or outright discrimination, but “women drop out.” Leung reports that
- Women comprise only 36 percent of the profession, according to the American Bar Association
- Only 18 percent of women are equity partners at the largest firms
- Women earn only 80 percent of the typical equity partner, according to a study done by the National Association of Women Lawyers
The wealth gap in the United States is outrageous, as highlighted previously by the Occupy Wall Street movement and progressive Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The pay of corporate CEOs continues to skyrocket, even when their companies underperform, while millions of citizens struggle to earn a living wage. The earnings of the middle class have been in steep decline, but corporate boards approve ever-increasing compensation packages for CEOs.
The field of architecture is hemorrhaging talent. While women make up 50 percent of many graduate architecture programs, they drop out of the profession in large numbers once they start working. What is going on? A recent study on diversity by the American Institute of Architects, reported by Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times, found a lack of gender equity in the profession that contributes to women leaving:
- Women and minorities are less likely to be promoted to senior positions. When younger women do not have role models in senior roles, they may be discouraged and conclude that the opportunities for women are limited.
We need a way to celebrate the important role that friendships with women play in most of our lives.
I remember feeling quite satisfied with my life as a single woman well into my forties because of the richness of my network of women friends. I had good friends at work with whom I went to concerts and on vacations. I had other women friends with whom I shared problems and companionable activities such as movie going, and I had women friends I had known since high school and college with whom I had shared significant life passages over many years and miles. I remember saying at that time that while I would like to have a long-term intimate relationship someday, if that never happened, that was okay, too.
Why is it that when Hillary Clinton stepped down from being secretary of state in 2013, after four years in office, she was the most popular politician in the country? Her approval rating then stood at 69 percent. Yet while campaigning for president in 2016, two-thirds of the voting population said they did not trust her, though according to Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times, this distrust is not deserved. Sady Doyle, writing for Quartz, suggests that “public opinion of Clinton has followed a fixed pattern throughout her career. Her public approval plummets whenever she applies for a new position. Then it soars when she gets the job.”