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DSJ Part 4: The Gender of Leadership

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By S. Nicole Diggs and Jamaal E. Kizziee
November 1, 2020 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all MEN are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This, the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, is the foundational philosophy for the United States of America and its citizens. In reading this document, one cannot help but to notice the unique manner in which this opening statement places weight on the words “We” and “Truth.” In fact, before this document can produce its objective of declaring its new found independence from the monarchy of old, it begins by first referring to the speaker along with the other people regarded in the same category as themselves as “we” (Oxford dictionary). Their truths are that, “All men… are Created… equal.” While the core of this formidable proclamation reveals a philosophically well balanced statement, the dawning of Americas unified call to independence is filled with discriminatory and exclusionary practices sets up by a group of “All Men” who get to determine just who exactly belongs.  

Such declarations are not veridical when evaluated with a historic lens. In fact, the emphasis placed on the words, “All men,” in comparison to the words which precede, sets the stage for a nation based on discrimination, hatred, oppression and an array of societal ills that accompany such practices. The question is then obvious: just who are the men for which this declaration was intended? With a quick study of United States history, we know that whoever this group was, they had no intention of sharing the wealth or freedoms found in this new land. The territories of this land and the prosperity found in it were not for any of the people who were classified as natives, enslaved or even women. So as this group identified themselves as the wealthy white land-owning men, they began to establish this new country. While America was in its infancy, these men simultaneously manufactured laws to establish an unjust but favorable society for themselves and their progenies.

Historic oppressive practices indoctrinated and infested many areas throughout society. Public administration and politics are no different as most of the leadership in these fields are represented by our white male colleagues. Gender inequities, which are entrenched in the very fabric of American governance, have created a void in the conversation for true communal collaboration for social justice and social change. As egalitarianism and civic participation have largely been reserved for white male policymakers, issues surrounding the advocacy for social justice reform have become pivotal discussion points not just in our communities, but also within public leadership and the lack of inclusion of our female contemporaries. This has created a huge gender divide. Gender inequity continues to be the subject of contention for women advancing into highly visible leadership positions; especially in the public sector.

Gender equity is defined as, “The process of being fair to women and men. To ensure fairness, strategies, and measures must often be available to compensate for women’s historical and social disadvantages that prevent women and men from otherwise operating on a level playing field.” Equity leads to equality and advancing gender equity requires having women in positions of power and influence over decisionmaking and policy implementation. Gender is inherently political and continues to influence the very notion of leadership and who can perceptually lead more effectively. Since the inception of the women’s suffrage movement, political representation of women has drastically advanced, numerically. In 2020, women hold a quarter of seats in Congress, Statewide Executive offices, state legislators and local elected offices. Yet, these numbers are inadequate for elite leadership.

In the brink of a national pandemic and police violence, a woman pursing one of the highest positions in the land is experiencing greater scrutiny, debate and hostile rhetoric for being “too ambitious.” Ambition, thought to exclusively describe men, is being used as a tactical measure to direct gendered opportunities for political participation. Being criticized and perceived as inauthentic for violating socially ascribed gender roles subtly signals where a woman’s place should be. Although women have excelled in medicine, law, business, education, science, sports and the arts, their worth is still being determined by historically oppressive beliefs and practices.

Women not only deserve to be in places of decisionmaking, but also advancement in social and political arenas. This truth is supported by UN Secretary General-Antonio Guterres. In a New School News article, his remarks regarding women in power state that not only is it important to advance gender equality but also calls for the intentional vigilance, of both men and women, to ensure equity is evident on all levels of participation. The fight of a woman is a constant battle to be seen, appreciated, valued and included. We thank Susan B. Anthony, Hillary Clinton, Sandra Dayo’Connor, the late Ruth Gingsburg, Kamala Harris, Mamie Eisenhower, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sonia Sotomayor, Shirley Chisholm and so many others for their lifelong commitment and fight to regender leadership.


S. Nicole Diggs, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Master of Public Administration Program at North Carolina Central University and a Board member of the Section on Democracy and Social Justice. [email protected]

Jamaal E. Kizziee MS., MFTi is an Education Re-entry Specialist at the Juvenile Justice Center in Alameda County California. [email protected]

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