HomeLearning CenterThe Diplomat: Moving Beyond the “Strong Female Character”

The Diplomat: Moving Beyond the “Strong Female Character”

Originally published by Miko M. Wilford Ph.D. for Psychology Today

Today’s entry might seem outside the expected fare for the (In)Justice System; so, I will begin by arguing why it is relevant. Briefly, politicians are those most empowered to reform our current legal system by creating and endorsing better laws.

Women have been systematically under-represented in American positions of power. Today, women make up just over a quarter of Congressional representatives. The numbers are slightly better at the local level (around 30 percent), but overall, women are still significantly outnumbered in legislatures nationwide. And, of course, representation at the executive level is even worse—a woman has yet to be elected president (and only 12 state governors are currently women). The perceptions of leaders as men are born early, with children as early as the 2nd grade being more likely to draw a political leader as male (rather than female).

Why is this important? In addition to the obvious argument that women make up 50 percent of the population, female representation has been shown to increase productivity (as measured by, for instance, by increased profits, or the ability to solve complex problems).

Also, at numerous junctures, women have led charges to prevent catastrophic outcomes such as the shutdown of the national government in 2013, and again in 2023. Further, during the 20 times the federal government has been shutdown, a woman has never occupied the lead role at the White House, the House of Representatives, or the Senate. Women are more likely to co-sponsor legislation, and they bring more money (on average) to their home districts than men.

The majority of Americans want more women in leadership roles. In fact, when controlling for the advantage of incumbents, women are just as electable as men. Yet, there continues to be an “ambition gap” such that fewer women actively consider running for office (despite comparable qualifications). Essentially, women need more encouragement to run for office, and are less likely to receive such encouragement.

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