How Do We End the Gender Gap in Leadership?


We recently blogged about the confidence gap in politics (its impact aptly displayed in the infographic above), but we’d like to explore the issue further, as it affects women in politics and in other fields.  The confidence gap in politics, in short: women are not running for office at nearly the rate men are. And it no longer appears that overt sexism is responsible (or at least, completely so.)  New polling suggests 90% of swing-state voters would consider voting for a female candidate for president, and women are actually coveted candidates because they are perceived by voters as more hardworking and less corruptible than men.

Why then (despite more women attending college and earning advanced degrees than men) is there such a dearth of female leadership at the top of government (and business, and science, and in Hollywood and…)?

As this NY Magazine article summarizes, “Due to negative perceptions of “bossy” women, an expectation that they’ll still have to do most of the housekeeping and child-rearing, and the persistent glass ceiling, women set their sights lower than men when they envision their professional future. Applied to politics, the ambition gap makes for a compelling reason why even politically involved women don’t see themselves as future candidates — let alone future presidents.”

Add to this a recent finding by the American Association of University Women (reported by Rachel Simmons) that “women in their first year out of college are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers—creating a heavier college debt burden and lifelong wage gap at a time when women are increasingly the primary breadwinners of their households.” This, too, is partially attributable to the fact that young women suffer from a “psychological glass ceiling”: worried about being perceived as pushy, they fail to ask for the kinds of salaries and raises their male peers do.

Even when women do ask for raises, studies have shown other people’s gender expectations can be harmful as well.  According to Rachel Simmons, “In a study by Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon, men and women asked for a raise using identical scripts. It was the women who were branded aggressive—unless they smiled while they asked, and appeared warm and concerned for others above themselves.”

How do we encourage girls and women to stop self-sabotaging, and to fight back against a culture that tells them every day they shouldn’t be too pushy, too demanding, too masculine in seeking leadership positions? Teaching women and girls to stand up and advocate for themselves is one solution that’s proven helpful. Empowering activities, whether sports, or music, or an after-school club like clubGEN, help girls learn to be confident, assertive leaders before the confidence gap takes too strong a hold. And seeing women in positions of authority helps other girls and women believe in themselves as well- so be a model in your community. Volunteer for clubGEN’s Career Week. Run for office. Play a leading role in whatever it is you care about. Speak up. Stand up. We need to show each other, and the girls and women that come after us, that there is nothing wrong with asking (without a smile, even!) for the recognition and compensation and authority we deserve.



Vanessa Wright