Tag Archives: women

When are American Women Going to Storm the Corporate Boardroom?

French women aren’t waiting around for men to step aside and put more women on corporate boards.  According to Bloomberg Business Week last month a group of women disguised with fake beards stormed the podium of Veolia Environnement – a water utility during a shareholders meeting.  The women tauted the utility for only having 1 woman on a 17 member board.

The article goes on to note that these tactics are actually having an impact.

That kind of stunt is becoming common during this season of French annual meetings. The activists, who decline to reveal their identities for fear of retribution, are demanding that companies, including Veolia and insurer Axa (AXAHY), deal with the “boy’s club” reputation of their corporate suites. Today, management has to take such pranks seriously. French lawmakers are considering legislation that would require at least 40 percent of companies’ boards to be made up of women within six years or risk not being able to add new male directors.

Legislation has already passed France’s lower House of Parliament in January, 2010.  It is now before the Senate. French corporations are already responding by adding more women to their Boards.  According to Governance Metrics International – a corporate research group in New York City, Women make up only 9.5% of 103 French corporate Boards.

Norway in 1992 actually passed legislation mandating quotas for women on corporate boards.  Women then only comprised 6.8% of 23 corporate boards.  Now the figure is 34%.

Governance Metrics International noted that women comprised only 8.5% of 405 corporate boards in Britain  and 12.2% of the boards of 1,754 US corporations.

The other side of the coin of course is that women are also severely under represented in legislative government. Figures from a wikipedia article on women in government point this out very clearly. “16% of all parliament members in the world are female. In 1995, the United Nations set a goal of 30%”

The same wikipedia article notes that “The United Kingdom and United States are roughly in line with the world average. The House of Lords has 139 women (19.7%), while there are 125 women (19.4%) in the British House of Commons. In the U.S., 17 of the 100 United States Senators are women, while 77 Representatives are women (17.9%).”

An article posted on the Brooking Institute website notes that “Women have long been underrepresented in French politics. French women have only been able to vote and eligible to serve in office since 1944, significantly later than in countries such as the United States (1920) …. The number of French women in office remained low for 50 years. In 1945, women represented 5% of National Assembly députés. In 1996, they still made up only 6% of députés, although they constituted 53% of the electorate. Following the 1997 legislative elections, women now make up close to 11% of députés, but still only 5.9% of senators.”

It seems to me that more women need to run for office as a form of storming the male dominated political power structure in France and America and most other countries in the world.. At least women in France are challenging the corporate world. While equality for women in governance and corporate power is an important progressive goal, obviously gender alone will not bring about necessary changes for a more just society. One need only witness right wing fanatics like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman who get a lot of attention but are not supportive of progressive legislation that makes a better world for both  men and women.

Washington State Leads Nation in Women Appointed to Cabinet Level Jobs

Governor Chris Gregoire’s first term in office has resulted in several significant Washington State milestones. Washington State is currently the only state in the country with over half of its cabinet level appointments being held by women. It is also the state with the biggest increase in women in these positions in the last decade.

It is quite the opposite in some states. Both Texas and New Hampshire have no women in cabinet level positions. In the Northwest, Oregon only has 27% of its cabinet positions held by women; Idaho has only 17%. Currently 23 women hold cabinet level positions in Washington State, up from 11% in 1997.

Neil Modie in an article in the Seattle PI reports these and other facts from a just released study by the Women’s Campaign Forum Foundation. Washington leads the nation according to the report because of among other things, “a commitment on the part of the governor’s office to recruit a diverse pool of candidates for consideration for appointed positions.”

We’ve written before about the disparity of women versus men in elected offices in this country. Our post was entitled “The Glass Ceiling for Women in Politics.” Only 16% of our US Senators and 16% of our US Representatives are women. Of 50 Governors only 8 are women. And Internationally we rank 68th out of 189 nations in the percentage of women in national parliaments. Since last year we actually dropped from 67th.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “There are currently 1,729 women legislators serving across the country. Women hold 23.4 percent of legislative seats in the 50 states, a ratio that has increased only slightly over the past ten years.”

Nationally men outnumber women in State Legislatures by 3 to 1. In Washington State, the figure is 2 to 1. We rank 7th in the country in women in the Legislature after Vermont 37.8%, New Hampshire 35.8%, Colorado 35%, Minnesota 34.8%, Arizona 33.3%, Hawaii 32.9% and Washington State 32.7% .

Gregoire’s leadership in appointing women to state cabinet positions is important in helping achieve more parity and opportunity for women to assume leadership positions. As Neil Modie writes, the report “said women appointees tend to “open up more opportunities for women overall,” and, “more importantly, appointed leadership is a vital pipeline to elected office” — as it was for Gregoire, for example. She was an assistant state attorney general when former Gov. Booth Gardner appointed her head of the Department of Ecology. From there she was elected state attorney general and, in 2004, governor.”

Seattle Times Does the Boy Talk about Girl Power

Girl Power- No Longer a Novelty” say the “boys” at the Seattle Times. This editorial appeared in today’s Seattle Times but was posted January 1, 2007 on the Internet.

We are the only state in the nation which has two girl Senators and a girl Governor, all a testament to “Girl Power” and our “true progressivism and open-mindedness” says the Seattle Times.

Yes, we have a girl for Governor – 59 year old Girl Governor Christine Gregoire (born March 24, 1947). We also have two girl Senators: Girl Senator Patty Murray (born Oct 11, 1950) who is 56 years old and Girl Senator Maria Cantwell (born Oct 13, 1958) who is 48 years old.

The Seattle Times notes that Maine and California also have two “female” Senators. But California’s Governor is not boy Arnold Schwarzenegger or male Arnold Schwarzenegger but “ever macho” Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why not in all fairness say “Not a Girlie” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger? That would be in context with the “Girl Power” headline. Maine’s Governor is asexual I guess because he is just “John Baldacci” He is not labeled as a boy or male. Maybe he is bisexual – in that case the girl power factor would put Maine at 2 1/2 instead of 2 out of three offices in the comparison above.

Our “Girl Power“according to the Seattle Times is because “Voters, as well as skilled politicians at several levels, understand that men do a very good job at a lot of things, and, quite often, women do, too I think they meant to say “and, quite often, girls do, too.” But there is more here.

I have a seventeen, almost eighteen, year old daughter who is off to college next year. As I read the above quoted sentence I can’t help but be angered at the bias that this sentence displays that I hoped we were overcoming in our nation. The phrase “…understand that men do a very good job at a lot of things, and, quite often, women do too.” is what bothers me. It reeks of sexism. Men, implying all men, as a class, do a very good job at a lot of things, it says. Without qualification, (all) men (politicians) do a very good job at a lot of things (in politics). But women don’t always do a very good job at a lot of things. They may “quite often” do a very good job at a lot of things but they don’t always do a very good job like men do. This is according to the Seattle Times interpretation of how men and women politicians are perceived by voters and I assume by the Seattle Times. Did no one proofread this editorial?

The Seattle Times editorial is off the mark in talking so condescendingly about “Girl Power” Maybe its because the Times editorial board itself has 8 boys and only 4 girls. But the fact is that the “girls” the Seattle Times talks about as a whole are shut out of power across the country. It’s time we talked about the reality that boys run this country. And boys outnumber girls two to one in Washington’s State Legislature. Is that a sign of “our true progressivism and open mindedness” that the Times talks about?

The Times editorial never once calls a man – a boy and never once calls a man – a male in its talk about “Girl Power“.

The Seattle Times editorial notes that “For many years, Washington has had the highest, or one of the highest, percentages of women in the State Legislature” We are now ranked third after Maryland and Delaware. We are actually tied for third with 3 other states – Arizona, Nevada and Vermont.

But the Seattle Times doesn’t give the figures for how many women are in the Washington Legislature which I think is important to this discussion. The Washington State Senate has 20 women out of 49 total Senators (15 D, 5R). The Washington State House of Representatives has 29 women out of 98 Representatives (19D, 10R) Women comprise almost exactly one third of our Legislature or 33.3% . This breakdown is part of an analysis done by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey.

Why is it not 50/50? Why do we not have some kind of parity or equality in numbers since women voters comprise about 50% of the voting population? While it is good to applaud the success of women in the ranks of Washington’s Legislators to date, it is not good enough to stop there. We need to challenge the parties and the voters to seek out and elect more women to the State Legislature. We need to rise to the challenge of fair representation. That is the editorial the Times should have written.

A closer look at the numbers of women elected to state legislatures nationally tabulated on the page of the Center for American Women and Politics says to me that women have hit a glass ceiling on rising to power in politics in America. ( See also my earlier discussion of the glass ceiling for women in politics)

Women in State Legislatures:

The trend is pretty obvious. Its like a mathematical equation where the line is approaching a limit of 25%.

The US ranks below a number of other countries around the world in having women in national Legislative office. Our two women U.S.Senators – Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell are only two of 16 women US Senators. 84 Senators are men. Women also comprise only 16% of the members of the US of Representatives.Internationally this ranks us 66th out of 151 national Legislative bodies around the world in the percentage of women holding office. Ironically this is lower than the percentage of women in the national legislature in Iraq (25.5%) and Afghanistan (27.3% and 22.5%).

“Woman Power” in America has a long ways to go to reach any fairness of women being represented in office. If anything Washington State is an anomaly both nationally and internationally. But even the numbers here do not suggest “a sign of Washington’s egalitarian nature.” Because that suggests some kind of equality which doesn’t exist. And it really is not a number we should be satisfied with.
We should be asking ourselves why aren’t we doing better, both here and nationally? Why isn’t there an approximately equal number of men and women in public office? Shouldn’t we be setting a goal to achieve a better balance? What do we have to do to achieve more women elected to public office? These are the questions that need answers.

The Glass Ceiling for Women in Politics

Democrat Darcy Burner, who lost a very close election for Congress in the 8th CD in Washington State started the discussion. She mused on what might have happened when she lost in a Republican leaning Congressional District to an incumbent whose previous job had been as the Sheriff of King County, the state’s largest county.

Problem is, she did her musing to some Seattle Times reporters and then they started spinning it around. It started with the headline on a blog written by Jim Brunner on the blog Postman on Politics. He entitled his post “A Glass Ceiling for Darcy?”

Part of Darcy’s musing included the following in an e-mail she sent to Brunner.

There has been a lot of talk about this year’s Democratic wave, but it was clearly a wave that helped men more than women. A reasonable hypothesis would be that the wave was related to voter feeling about the war, and that voters responded by preferring Democratic male challengers to Republican incumbents (of either gender), but did not apply that same preference to Democratic female challengers.”

Brunner then belittles newcomer Burner by pointing to Republican Jennifer Dunn previously representing the District. Prior to Dunn running for Congress she was the Chair of the State Republican Party from 1981 to 1992. Democrat Patty Murray won in the 8th in 2004 after already having been a Senator for 6 years. And Democrat Christine Gregoire won in the 8th in her Governor’s race after having been Washington State Attorney General. In addition one needs to consider each of their opponents.

No one disputes, I think, that Burner did not have the name recognition or political experience that these candidates did or the name familiarity and political experience of Sheriff Congressman Dave Reichert. The district has been considered a Republican District and Burner was running against a Republican incumbent Congressman. There were a number of factors, besides these, any one of which by itself could have been the margin of difference in this race. However I thought it was rather dismissive of Brenner to question Darcy’s saying that gender could have been an issue because irregardless of Darcy’s experience or other factors, gender is an issue in every race a woman runs in.

In his next days post entitled “Final Thoughts on Burner” Brenner backs off some noting that the issue of gender is a factor.

“For the record, I don’t think it loopy to look at the role gender can play in an election. You can see it in the “gender gap” which generally has men favoring Republicans and women leaning Democratic. Male and female candidates can be perceived differently. (Some comments in yesterday’s thread only strengthened Burner’s argument by calling her “honey” and telling her to stay at home with the kid.)
But for every male chauvinist out there, there are others who prefer to vote for women. As long as I’ve covered politics here, I’ve heard consultants speak about women candidates as having an advantage. Our state Legislature
ranks 3rd in the percentage of women in the Legislature, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, which also has loads of other data on women in elected office.
For another perspective, researchers
here suggest that many Congressional districts treat Democratic women differently than Republican women. In Washington’s 8th , they predict Republican women having an easier go than Democrats. The methodology is complicated, so take a look for yourself.”

I think Darcy Burner raised an important point that has not been sufficiently looked at even in this state. That is not to say that any number of factors mentioned by others did not also impact this race. And I am not saying that gender was the deciding factor in this race nor did I read Darcy as saying this.

What Darcy did was raise the question. And she is right to raise the question about gender as a factor in who Americans vote for because the numbers show that she was running with an extreme handicap.

The Washington Post in an article headlined “Hill Demographic Goes Slightly More Female” says:

“The House and Senate elections …..added at least five women to the next Congress, the only notable demographic shift in an otherwise dramatic political upheaval……Women in Congress made a net gain of five seats, three in the House and two in the Senate, bringing the total to 86. At least eight new Democratic women and two Republican women were elected to the House, with the possibility of a few more in still unresolved races. Two female Senate victors — Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — will bring the number in that body to 16.”

But a closer look at this slight gain reveals a harsh truth of how we view women in public office.

Even with this year’s election results, nationally women only make up 16% of the members in the US House and also 16% in the US Senate. There are now 16 women who are US Senators and 70 women who are Representatives in the US House. Men hold 84% of the seats in Congress.

How does this compare with the rest of the world? Well to be honest, we stink.

Internationally we rank 67th out of 189 nations in the percentage of women in national parliaments. Rawanda has 48.8%, Sweden 47.3%, Costa Rica 38.6 ….. even Afghanistan at 27.3% women and Iraq at 25.5% have more women in office. In the United States of America we only have women at 16%.
You can see the list at Women in National Parliaments.

And its not just Congress.

As Trinity University’s Presidents Blog notes in commenting on Nancy Pelosi, class of 1962, becoming Speaker of the House , there is still a long way to go for more women to become part of the political power structure:

“Only 8 women are currently governors of states, including Trinity Alumna Kathleen Gilligan Sebelius in Kansas. In all 225 years of U.S. history, only 25 women have ever been governors.”

Again the current numbers translate to 16% of Governors being female.

While women are working their way into state legislatures, there is still not a true sharing of the political power structure between men and women proportional to their numbers.

As the National Council of State Legislatures notes:
The 2007 session will see 1,731 women legislators serving across the country. Women currently hold 23.3 percent of legislative seats in the 50 states, a ratio that has increased only slightly over the past ten years.

Washington State has now moved from 3rd highest to 6th highest in percentage of women in our Legislature with this year’s elections.

New Hampshire 36.3%
Vermont 35.6%
Minnesota 34.8%
Colorado 34%
Hawaii 32.9%
Washington 32.7%

The lowest state is South Carolina at 8.8%

In 2003 Washington State women legislators numbered 54 out of 147 or 36.7%. In 2007 the number will be 48 out of 147 or 32.7%.

We remain a country dominated by men on all levels. Women still have a long way to go until they reach any kind of parity with their actual percentage in the population, whether it be for State Legislature, Congress, Governor, Senator or President. Until then every woman, including Darcy Burner, will start and finish with a gender bias handicap that they have to fight against in election after election in addition to all the other factors that decide the outcome of an election.

In the meantime comments like Darcy Burner’s noting this glass ceiling’s existence speaks to the truth and points to just another reason why Darcy Burner almost won her race. She was not afraid to speak the truth which many want to deny or ignore but which is obvious in looking at the results in election after election.

See Also:
“Women, War and Darcy” Evergreen Politics

“Winning Women?”NY Times Magazine 10/29/2006

“Needed: a few good men?” Seattle Times 11/19/2006