Founder and close the gap, CA Board Member Mary V. Hughes* was guest speaker at the LWV-LAMVA’s Annual Meeting, held June 20, 2014, at Michael’s at Shoreline. The Mary Hughes talk was a stirring analysis of Women Leaders in U.S. Politics and Corporate America.
Hughes Recognizes the League’s Contribution
Hughes thanked the League for its dedication to non-partisanship and encouraging the informed and active participation of citizens in government. She expressed concern that the disregard in which elected officials are held is a danger to the country. Hughes said that citizens count on the League to make the case that government matters and serving in government is a high calling. Where we live, people tend to be active and informed, but this is not the case around the country. Hughes urged the League to keep up its efforts, that all the ways the League can add to good governance and support for those who serve is to the good.
Women’s Participation Statistics – sadly a drop
Unfortunately, increasing the numbers of women serving in the California Legislature has lost ground. The numbers have dropped from a high of 31 to the current number of 26.
Hughes said that the bad news is that in any sector—law, medicine, academics, government—women hold only 18-23% of the leadership positions, the high of 23% being in academia. Women constitute only 18% in businesses among Fortune 500 companies.
“Through the decades of the Woman’s Movement, this percentage has not changed,” Hughes said. “This under-representation by women in these policy and leadership positions matters to all women and society.
Why Leadership Gender Makes a big difference in Outcomes
Research and good arguments reveal why it is important for more women to aim for leadership positions and be successful in achieving these positions in all walks of life.
Gender matters. Women in leadership roles add value to all enterprises where they serve.
Men and women differ, and this difference has value in solving problems, achieving goals, a better bottom line, avoiding fraud and corruption.
Examples In Business:
• Credit Suisse studies revealed the importance of gender balanced, decision making in investment. Gender balanced teams produced better returns. Gender balanced teams scored better in risk avoidance and consumer understanding.
• Carnegie Mellon studies found gender balanced teams were better at problem understanding and defining problems and had higher Emotional IQs.
Gender balanced boards have higher returns.
• In the CA Legislature, 26% are women; in the US Congress, 18% are women. When women have a voice, their voices make a difference.
In 1992 the largest cohort of women were elected to Congress: Pat Schroeder, CO; Olympia Snow, ME and the presence of women in Congress changed the agenda.
• In the area of Women’s Health: Clinical trials now done in more diverse ways with better conclusions.
•Congresswoman Gabby Gifford: When she served on the Armed Services Committee, she pushed to learn the effects on soldiers and families when soldiers return from war and what support they need. Gifford helped change the agenda to the physical and mental health needs of returning soldiers and families; the effects on children. Because a woman served and asked these questions, returning soldiers were viewed through a different lens. Kristen Gillibrand’s presence on this committee has facilitated the focus on sexual assault, harassment in the military.”
How Women in Politics Differ
According to Hughes, women tend to be more open and transparent and are motivated more by a desire for public service versus a political career to amass power for power’s sake.
Women serving in the State Legislature encourage other groups who are underrepresented such as people of color, immigrants, the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual community to approach women as portals and gateways to inclusiveness.
Women say ethics matter. Nancy Pelosi, the first woman Speaker of the House, formalized ethics standards for Congress.
When women are present, they tend to create more open avenues toward collaborative solutions vs picking one solution.
“Women tend to collaborate and co-sponsor more legislation than men and generate more tax dollars for their district,” Hughes said. “If you are represented by a woman in Congress, she delivers $47 million more in government assistance and other benefits to your district than her male counterpart.”
Hughes said that women fought hard that birth control and benefits for children were included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). When Congresswoman Eshoo learned that reconstructive breast surgery had not been a covered procedure, but was viewed as a cosmetic or optional procedure, her efforts resulted in reconstructive breast surgery as a covered procedure.
Women in politics are more civil
Women’s Tutorial in the Senate: The 4 Republican and 16 Democratic women senators meet for dinner once a month. They collaborate and have made a commitment not to speak ill of each other. They are committed to maintaining civil respect in public. This coalition is largely responsible for passage of the current budget and the farm bill.
“The collaboration and work of these women are making a positive difference with just 20% of the body,” Hughes said. “Think what value added if women were serving in Congress and State houses in equal numbers. Get a glimpse of how good and great the country could be, at home and aboard, if legislatures could be opened up and inclusive.”
Hughes again thanked the League and asked us to think about the value added by women and how that can work in implementing the LWV agenda. She urged us to think about how we can better take credit and be more forceful in leadership, be more present and set a standard others want to live up to.
Getting Out the Women’s Vote
Hughes said that women have everything at stake in these elections. (Large numbers of women are heads of households and single moms supporting children.) Hughes said that it is critically important that women take time to vote, to mail in their vote by mail ballot or take time off from work to vote or vote from the library.
“More women need to understand what is at stake in electing more women to office and lifting the 20% cap,” Hughes said. “Government sets the example. If women chaired the Judiciary Committee, we would not have all male committees, and this will lift the standards in the private sector also.
The rationale for electing women is so that there are enough women in leadership positions now so our daughters get to be in those leadership chairs. The 20% cap sits heavily on all heads. The best way to move history faster is electing more women in government.”
In conclusion, Hughes said, “Do what you are doing faster, bigger, louder.”
Q: How do we change the negative perception of women who are more assertive?
A: Over 15 years of study, the perception of assertive women is changing from assertiveness/toughness being off-putting to now when a woman who speaks out knowledgeably with compassion is perceived as strong rather than tough.
It is important to have wit and call things the way you see it, but contain flashes of anger, impatience. If people know your story, they will be more open to your views.
Q: What do you think about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In?
A: I have respect for anyone who wants to help women find their way to leadership. I recommend Anne Marie Slaughter’s article titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” which appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic. : More women leaders make a more compassionate society.
Unfortunately, US society is not structured to value family the way we pretend to value family. What work requires and the way we think of success make it difficult to accommodate family and get to the top.
Q: What about studies that show women prefer male bosses? Women do not always support other competent women.
A: A recent study showed 15% of women felt a woman is not ready to be President, but that perception is changing.
A Governors’ study showed older women delayed making up their mind whom to vote for until the last minute. Boomer women, aged 46-68, are mostly ok with women leaders. But a younger cohort split and were as much for Obama as Hillary Clinton and have a different view about women leaders. They do not feel the same need to support women as older women. There is a constant need for reeducation. We cannot assume the next generation of women will have awareness unless we help them develop it.
Again, keep on doing what you are doing, but bigger, louder, better.
Facts about Mary Hughes
* Hughes is a co-founder and President of Hughes & Company, a strategic communications and political consulting firm in Palo Alto, California. Mary founded and served as Director of the 2012 Project, a national, non-partisan campaign of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures by taking advantage of newly drawn and newly created districts resulting from redistricting and reapportionment.
close the gap CA is a campaign to increase the number of progressive women in the California legislature by recruiting talented, progressive women to run for open, winnable seats in 2014 and 2016. Changes to California’s term limit law in 2012 means another opportunity like this will not occur again until [the next decade’s redistricting].