America Will Never Be Truly Equal Until It Has More Female Leaders

by John Haltiwanger

As a consequence of the midterms on Tuesday, the US Congress will have 100 female members for the first time in American history. It only took us 238 years to reach a modicum of equality! Congrats America!

In all seriousness, this is a great sign of progress, but much more can be done. Historically, women have been habitually underrepresented in the United States. After all, women were only granted suffrage 94 years ago. To put this in perspective, right around the time when the grandparents of many Millennials were born, women in America couldn't vote.

Likewise, as the comedian Louis C.K. recently stated:

Women got the right to vote in this country in 1920. That means American democracy is 94 years old. There are three guys in my building who are older than American democracy.

Indeed, women in the United States have never been afforded the proper respect. America is a patriarchal society, plain and simple.

Moreover, even though the United States is the world's most famous democracy, it is far behind much of the globe in terms of female political representation.

Even Afghanistan Has More Female Legislators Than America

Despite the fact that Congress just made history in terms of female representation, women still only make up about 18 percent of America's legislature. Yet, concurrently, half of the US population is female (50.8 percent). Thus, it's safe to say that women are not properly represented in the United States.

The global average for female political representation is about 21 percent. Finland, Iceland and Norway lead the way in this arena, with an average of 41 percent female legislatures across the three countries. Correspondingly, as the Center for American Progress notes:

It’s been estimated that for a country such as the United States, which has a winner-take-all voting system rather than a system of proportional representation and no quotas, it will take until near the end of this century to reach a level of 40 percent legislative participation by women.

Accordingly, America is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of female leadership.

Even Afghanistan has more females in its legislature than America does. This is a country where women receive death threats simply for being teachers, doctors or lawyers. Yet, the National Assembly, Afghanistan's legislature, is 27.7 percent women.

Likewise, the United States has never had a female president. Even in countries like Chile, where abortion is completely illegal and female reproductive rights aren't protected whatsoever, there have been female presidents. In fact, the current Chilean president is a woman.

Indeed, despite the fact that machismo and conservative Catholicism dictate much of the culture and values in Latin America, there have been a number of female presidents in countries all over the region.

America might be more progressive than much of the world in terms of its values, but it is definitely lacking in terms of female leadership.

Not Enough Women Are Running For Office

Part of the reason the United States is behind the rest of the world when it comes to female political representation is due to the fact that not enough women are running for office.

Thus, if there is any hope of eliminating gender inequality in American politics and society, more women need to step up and pursue public office. Furthermore, when women run for office, they win just as often as men. Relatedly, as Ezra Klein notes for the American Prospect:

In Democratic primaries since 1990, a woman won in 60 percent of districts where at least one competed. The problem, it turns out, is less underperformance than underrepresentation. When women run, they perform at least as well as men. But they don't run nearly so often, and our country -- with its weak party system and aversion to quotas—does nothing to specifically redress the resulting disparity. This might be why the percentage of women in Congress puts us in 68th place worldwide.

Therefore, it's time for more women to step up and pursue political positions. In the process, they can help address the many challenges women currently face in American society.

Without Proper Representation, Women In The US Are Being Held Back

Women were granted the right to vote almost a century ago, but that doesn't mean that life in America automatically got easier for them. In truth, there is rampant gender inequality in the United States.

The United States is the only country in the developed world where women aren't provided paid maternity leave. This is simply unacceptable.

Correspondingly, females are paid less than men across the board. Women make 84 cents for every dollar men earn. Even when women perform the same jobs as men, they are paid less. For women of color, the pay gap is even greater.

What's more, the highest paid female CEO in the country, Carol Meyrowitz, still makes less than a third of the highest paid man. Additionally, women are decidedly less likely than men to become CEOs, and it's not because a lack of trying.

Hence, it's apparent that America is a long way from being a truly equitable society. Fortunately, both men and women agree that more needs to be done to foster gender equality in the workplace.

A large part of the problem is that there are not enough female leaders. Simply put, without proper political representation, the rights and interests of women are being violated and ignored.

Moreover, the United States could benefit from having more females in public office. Women are often fervent champions of equality and civil rights, likely because they understand what it means to struggle in society.

Similarly, as Steven Hill highlights for The Nation:

Having more women in office not only upholds democratic values of 'fairness' and 'representative government,' but various studies have also shown that the presence of more women in legislatures makes a significant difference in terms of the policy that gets passed. Other studies have found that women legislators—both Republican and Democrat—introduce a lot more bills than men in the areas of civil rights and liberties, education, health, labor and more.

In essence, women are not only progressive, they are extremely efficient. Thus, the United States desperately needs more female politicians, they get things done. The more women we have in office, the better we do as a country -- it's statistically proven.