By Wendy Doyle | President & CEO, Women's Foundation
This month’s elections saw women breaking records and winning primaries up and down the ticket.
This “pink wave” is an exciting trend for those of us working to reduce barriers to women’s civic engagement. But even with a record number of women poised to take office next year, there is still much more work to be done to increase gender diversity at all levels of government.
Nearly 100 years after women gained the right to vote, women still make up only 20 percent of Congress and less than a quarter of the Missouri General Assembly. All statewide elected officials in Kansas are men. In Missouri, women occupy only two statewide elected offices. We must do better.
Women are woefully underrepresented in C-suites, too, despite having earned more college degrees than men for 30 years running. The New York Times found that there are almost as many men named John running large companies as there are women. Twenty-five Fortune 500 CEOs are women, 23 are named John.
That is why the Women’s Foundation is proud that so many state and local leaders have teamed with our Appointments Project® to help place more women on the public boards and commissions.
From housing and public health to economic development and occupational licensing, local boards and commissions perform vital functions that have far-reaching impacts. And too often, these decisions are being made in rooms that don’t reflect the diversity of the populations they serve.
The Women’s Foundation developed the Appointments Project® based on the findings of a first-of-its-kind study we commissioned that identified numerous barriers causing women to be underrepresented on public boards and commissions. These challenges ranged from complex structural barriers to simple ones, like women believing they won’t be asked to serve.
Since we launched the project in 2014, more than two dozen cities and states have signed on, placing more than 90 women on public boards and commissions.
This is good news – because the lack of gender diversity in the halls of power shouldn’t just concern women, but everyone interested in more effective, equitable policy solutions.
Research shows that in almost every scenario you can think of, having more diversity at the decision-making table increases effectiveness, productivity – and creativity as well. And more than just being at the table, it’s about being included and heard.
A study of 600 business decisions found that inclusive teams made better decisions 87 percent of the time and decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60 percent better results.
The reason for this is simple: people with different perspectives and backgrounds identify solutions that others might not. As David Rock and Heidi Grant wrote for the Harvard Business Review, “working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance.”
We also know that when women take on leadership roles, they have a proven track record of championing solutions that benefit women and men alike. Policies, like expanding access to paid family leave or reducing burdensome occupational licensing barriers, will help boost economic opportunity and improve work-life balance for everyone.
In other words, the “pink wave” of women candidates and officials will lift all boats.
Together, we can continue to break down the barriers facing women and their families, and build a future of greater inclusion and opportunity for everyone.