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Teaching Women’s’ role in power, in the USA and the rest of the world.

Women of Color Were Shut Out of Congress For Decades. Now They’re Transforming It.

More women of color are serving in the 117th Congress than ever before. Source: Women of Color Were Shut Out of Congress For Decades. Now They’re Transforming It.

Lesson plan

The 2020 election might have been a battle between two white male septuagenarians, but it also contained two major political milestones for women of color. The first is that on Wednesday, Sen. Kamala Harris will be sworn in as the first Black and South Asian American vice president — the first woman and first woman of color to serve in that role.

Despite strides in women’s representation in powerful roles, a surprising number of people across the world still don’t trust women to lead effectively. These biases are deep-seated – and may be difficult to
change.

Why do we still distrust women leaders?

In November 2020, Maia Sandu reached a milestone by becoming Moldova’s first woman president. Following years of sexist attacks from men and women alike, it was a major victory for Sandu – and women around the world – who are increasingly reaching positions of power. The same month, the American people elected Kamala Harris vice-president; on 20 January, she’ll become the highest-ranking woman in US history.

only 41% of people in Germany said they felt very comfortable with a woman being the head of government, in spite of Angela Merkel’s long-time chancellorship. “It’s just a myth that one female leader changes society,” says Michelle Harrison, who leads the public division of Kantar, the market research company that runs the Reykjavík Index surveys. And it’s unrealistic to expect a single leader (woman or otherwise) to create sweeping change around gender roles.

Another striking finding was that around the world, young men were especially unlikely to endorse women leaders. This is surprising given that younger generations are often considered more progressive than older ones.

Only 41% of people in Germany said they felt very comfortable with a woman being the head of government, in spite of Angela Merkel’s long-time chancellorship

The Covid-19 effect

Unfortunately, the pandemic has not been a turning point for bias against women in power. In the pandemic-linked recession, women are being disproportionately affected by job cuts and reduced working hours. Women are also under-represented in scientific and policy committees related to Covid-19 response.

Women heads of government have won plaudits for decisive leadership during the pandemic, including New Zealand’s Ardern and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen. And in the US, states with women governors initially had fewer deaths from Covid-19 than states with male governors.

But it’s hard to judge patterns when these women leaders are still such a small sample (currently only 9 out of 50 US governors are women). More generally, the strong performance of women leaders doesn’t appear to have improved public beliefs about women’s leadership. This pattern already exists in other domains. While women’s leadership in the banking and finance sector is associated with more stability and higher financial returns, this sector remains imbalanced in terms of gender.

Source: Equality matters. 

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