So are women just not meant to lead, or are they never given the chance?
Unfortunately, I believe there are many factors preventing women from assuming leadership positions whether in government, the private sector, or even their own families.
From being paid less in the workplace to taking often unpaid maternity leave, women are definitely not at an equal starting point with men for that big promotion. Further, women of color have an even harder path to these positions as they are often paid even less than white women. According to the Center for American Progress, “women of color…experience lower median weekly earnings, higher rates of poverty, and greater unemployment”.
Women are not just working against unfairness in their careers, however. Many societies and cultures pressure women to get married, start families, and stay home to take care of those families. Businesses don’t want to promote women and take the chance that they will take time off or even leave in the future because of pregnancies or childcare. We are still seeing the tired headlines asking some variant of “Can a working mother have it all?” People seem to have a hard time believing that women can have children, a career, and still be a good parent. Meanwhile, can you imagine a male CEO or celebrity ever being asked, “So how do you balance being a father with your career?”
It’s difficult to push back against what others expect of you and forge your own path. It’s even more difficult if you don’t have access to higher education or are living in poverty. According to the National Poverty Center, “poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic”. We need to realize that economic setbacks and recessions disproportionately affect women and children. If we want more diversity in our leaders, we have to use our resources where they are needed most. This is why it’s problematic to shut down schools in poorer areas, to cut funding for Head Start, or for meal programs for poor children. Leaders can come from every class, every race, and every gender if we put the work in to help each other succeed.
I believe that women can be leaders – and damn good ones. Look at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, or Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, or the three joint winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman, for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. There are many successful women leaders, and there can be many more if we do our part to give them a chance.
Written by Laurel Reed
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