Women in Political Leadership — by GMK

In the United States we are one year away from our next presidential election. In both political parties there is a woman seeking their respective party’s nomination for president, but for now, the United States remains perhaps the most notable example of where women’s political leadership is lacking.  The sad reality is women’s political participation in government, in the U.S. and around the world, has largely remained stagnate, or only seen small gains. Worldwide, women’s participation in national parliaments ranges from 0.0% in countries such as Yemen, Qatar, and Palau to above 50% in Bolivia and Rwanda [1].  In the past twenty years women have doubled their worldwide political representation in parliaments [2]. Upon first glance this seems to be a promising statistic, but the reality is women’s representation doubled from 11% to 22% [3]. It is easy to double the participation rate when your starting point is so low.  

We know there are a limited number of women in political leadership positions, but does the lack of female leadership in politics have an impact on public policy? Many researchers think it does.  

Women in political leadership positions often have different leadership qualities that can impact the public policy process. If more women are included in the process it could lead to better governance and representation for both men and women. Once in office, “women introduce more bills, participate more vigorously in key legislative debates and give more of the one-minute speeches that open each daily session.”[4] Particularly in local governments, women’s participation has made a significant difference. Research on panchayats (local councils) in India discovered the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62 percent higher than in those with male-led councils [5]. When looking at the research on women in government, it is clear that women typically act differently than men once they are in office.

Aside from government-specific research, there has been research focusing on women as leaders in general.  One of the most critical differences of having women political leaders stems from differences in leadership style. In collaborative work environments, the presence of women can improve the performance of everyone on the team. The study found when few people dominated the conversation, teams were less collectively intelligent than those with a more equal distribution of conversational turn-taking”[6]. Though women are often stereotyped as talking more than men, in these group situations, women show greater social sensitivity and seek to include all group members. This improved the collective intelligence of the entire group [7].  Meaning, when women are included in a team, the team will generally perform better, than if no women had been included.

When it comes to decision-making, there is evidence that when under stress, women tend to make different decisions than men.  In a study of global corporations, during the 2008 financial crisis, companies with woman on their boards fared better than those with male only boards. In fact, the companies with women on their boards performed 26 percent better than those without women [8]. While there are many factors that may have led to this difference, women’s leadership should not be discounted. Though women’s effectiveness in political leadership is more difficult to study, it is evident that in times of crises, women in leadership hold a unique set of skills allowing them to effectively manage crises.

Despite the importance of women leaders, women often face enormous obstacles to achieving a leadership position in politics. The challenge for incorporating more women into positions of leadership comes not from a lack of experienced women, but society’s view of leadership. When girls are young, parents are less likely to encourage them to think about a political career and even after women are elected they face an uphill battle. An article from Politico recently described the discrimination female Senators face in Congress, including instances of sexual harassment and the dismissal of their qualifications.  As described in the article, “women still are seen as intruders into many of the Senate’s formerly all-male spaces.”[9] Once in office, women often face a hostile work environment and in some countries, risk their lives to pursue public service. This is likely one element of why we still see such a shortage of women in political leadership.

Women are half of the world’s population, yet are significantly underrepresented in political leadership. Gender is not determinative of leadership potential or success, for both men and women are capable of being good or bad leaders. However, it is not enough to have a few token women in political leadership. Increasing the number of women in politics will not be easy, but it starts by providing women a fair opportunity to vie for leadership positions.
by GMK



[1] “Women in Parliaments: World Classification.” Inter-Parliamentary Union. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.

[2]“Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation.” UN Women. 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.

[3]”Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation.” UN Women. 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.

[4] Stolberg, Sheryl. “When It Comes to Scandal, Girls Won’t Be Boys.” The New York Times. June 11, 2011.

[5]R. Chattopadhyay and E. Duflo, 2004, “Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India,” Econometrica 72(5), pp. 1409–1443; K. A. Bratton and L. P. Ray, 2002.

[6]Woolley, Anita Williams, et al. “Performance of Human Groups.” Science, September 30, 2010.

[7]Woolley, Anita Williams, et al. “Performance of Human Groups.” Science, September 30, 2010.

[8]Huston, Therese. “Are Women Better Decision Makers?” The New York Times. October 18, 2014.

[9]Mundy, Liza. “The Secret History of Women in the Senate.” POLITICO Magazine. 2015. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.


One thought on “Women in Political Leadership — by GMK

  1. Good Reason says:

    Nice overview! Isn’t it amazing that 1/2 of the population are still considered “intruders” when power and money are involved?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s