Friday, May 6, 2016

Could a Clinton Presidency Finally Shatter the Glass Ceiling?

For the first time in Canada’s history, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed equal numbers men and women to his cabinet when he took office last year.  When asked why, Trudeau stated simply, “Because its 2015.” Meanwhile in the United States, liberal presidential candidates consistently promise to promote women and people of color, but avoid naming exact quotas. Hillary Clinton might just be the one to change that.  Last week in an interview on MSNBC, Clinton pledged to break up the Old Boy’s Club if elected, telling Rachel Maddow, "I am going to have a cabinet that looks like America, and 50 percent of America is women, right?"

American hesitance to set quotas is not shared by much of the world, where quotas have helped propel women into leadership positions.  Rwanda, Costa Rica, Chile and France are just a few of the 28 countries ranked ahead of the United States by the 2015 UN Women’s Index of women in ministerial positions. Finland stands as number one, with 62.5% women in the ministry.

A 50-50 split in the U.S. cabinet would require doubling the current number of women. Political and gender analysts say Clinton is positioned to accomplish this feat given her track record of appointing women to leadership roles and her network of qualified female candidates. Beyond the number of women in the cabinet, certain departments have historically been open to women, while others have remained sealed. The Department of Heath and Human Services, for example, has had five female heads. Conversely, a woman has never headed the Departments of Defense, Treasury, or Veteran Affairs. This gendered discrepancy reveals some ingrained norms (i.e. women as caretakers, men as soldiers; women as emotional and nurturing, men as aggressive and analytical).

If she keeps her promise, a Clinton presidency could dramatically alter the governance of the United States. And if Finland is any indication, this change could be extremely beneficial. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of Twenty first, a consulting company dedicated to gender equity in business, says, “companies with more gender-balanced leadership teams significantly outperform companies with only men at the helm. Why wouldn’t this be even more true at a country level?” (Not so) Coincidently, Finland boasts the best public school system in the world, paid maternity leave and subsidized childcare. Wittenberg-Cox notes these topics are only taken seriously when women gain political representation. 

Could Clinton’s pledge to advance other women be the final shove against the cracking glass ceiling? Only time will tell. But we are hopeful, and we will hold Hillary to her promise.

--Kathleen Melendy, MWPC Intern