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Promoting Leadership Roles to Both Men and Women

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

Photo: dccomics.com

By Candi Choi
July 2, 2018

Given the standards set by the U.S. Constitution, most people prefer abilities and accomplishments to be concrete factors for employment and promotion. Gender, race and religion are believed irrelevant to the qualifications of any job, role or position. Research shows perceived effectiveness in leadership is found among both sexes. The traits of “good leaders” are interchangeable and advantageous to both sexes, rather than gender specific. Leadership roles in society have evolved along with men and women’s roles at work and home. Every day, society contends with who is going to lead and in what role.

Among all citizens, women are now the majority. An educated majority at that: 69 percent of those who have earned bachelor degrees are women. Yet, full-time working women one year out of college “are paid 7 percent less than their male peers.” In major cities, though, young women who are single and childless earn more than men—an “average of 8 percent more,” according to NPR. They even earn more than women with children. Generally, after having children women’s wages “stagnate or fall.”

Individuals make different life choices through the course of their career, including time off for rearing children. The truth is men, more than women, stick with and advance in their careers. In 1995, the Commission on the Glass Ceiling, reported promotional opportunities constrained by the belief that it is “risky to invest in women because they might…quit their jobs to raise a family,” as cited by Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli in “Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders.” Working more hours doesn’t equate to entitlement or privilege. But, domestic responsibilities can promote less access to leadership in society. “In Women and Leadership: The State of Play and Strategies for Change,” Barbara Kellerman and Deborah L. Rhodes review a study, which sent resumes to job advertisements and “mothers were called back half as often as childless women.” This has certainly set a precedent for women who plan to reproduce.

Women have made a lot of progress at home and in the workforce over the years. Men are expected to “increasingly share housework and childrearing” into the future, says Eagly and Carli. Many women, though, still confront obstacles presumed by “unpredictable life circumstances and the rigid inflexibilities of our workplace,” as suggested by Anne Marie Slaughter in” Unfinished Business.” So, where do we focus?

  1. Public Policy. The FMLA has been the federal standard since 1993 — 25 years of working from the same stipulations regarding family work-life balance. Yet, fertility rates are low. Ensuring the workforce is productive and able to be productive is a key to addressing the impacts of equitable roles in society (and the looming demographic transition). Governor Northam, Virginia, recently granted “up to eight weeks of paid parental leave to employees” and created a panel to study ways to “help workers with child care and early education.” The order is geared toward recruiting and retaining new employees through the “wave of impending retirements and challenges in offering [competitive] compensation.” A sentiment that has roots among bi-partisan supports in the Virginia House of Delegates, as well.
  2. Strong Professional Networks of Both Sexes. In “Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women,” Johnson and Smith write, “both men and women worry that they will be unable to balance work and family commitments as they progress up the corporate ladder.” In 2014, the authors note, “half of women” enter the workforce with their eyes on promotion, “but their confidence and ambition levels drop 60 percent after more than just two years on the job.” The missing key — “meaningful recognition, support, and mentorship from their managers,” says Johnson and Smith. Networks and mentorships are necessary when advancing career opportunities.
  3. Account for Upcoming Generations. A survey of Harvard Business School Alumni found “42 percent of married millennial women planned to interrupt their careers for family.” This is more than the generations ahead of them — generation x (28 percent) and baby boomers (17 percent). Mothers are also increasing their work load as primary breadwinners (40 percent of all households with children) while still doing more childcare and housework overall. Johnson and Smith attest, fathers now “spend three times as many hours performing childcare and twice as much time doing housework as they did in 1965.” Initiatives incorporating these generational values allow more access to a meaningful work-life balance.

The road to success is difficult for many, but less challenging is finding ways to inspire growth and achievement from willing individuals. Organizations that retain and promote “top talent” of both sexes are more likely to prosper than others. Uninformed ideologies can be problematic and add to the difficulties of appropriately accessing success for many. Our society consists of a majority of skilled and educated woman leaders. How they perceive their role in society and share their responsibilities will make the difference for years to come.


Author: Candi Choi holds an MPA with specialization in local government management. She has experience with local budgeting, planning and constituent affairs. Contact her via email: [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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