Hillary Clinton’s decision to make a run for the presidency in 2016 has brought into sharp focus the lack of women in top positions in the US government and the double standards which are applied when they seek to climb to the highest positions.
According to the American public, women are not in short supply in the political field because they lack toughness, management chops or proper skill sets. Clinton proved she had all these qualities while serving as Secretary of State in Barack Obama’s first presidency during 2009-12.
A recent Pew Research Center survey on women and leadership showed most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation.
Instead, about four in 10 Americans pointed to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of politics, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves. A similar share said the electorate is just not ready to put more women in top leadership positions.
These findings are based on a survey conducted online by Pew in November last year that included of 1,835 randomly selected adults.
A record number of women (104) are currently serving in the House and Senate. Women now make up 19% of the Congress, about double the share from 20 years ago.
And though 67-year-old Clinton had not announced her decision to run for the presidency when Pew conducted the survey, 73% of respondents said they expected to see a female president in their lifetime. A total of 38% said they hoped the US will elect a female president in their lifetime while 57% said it did not matter to them.
According to the majority of respondents, women are every bit as capable of being good political leaders as men. Many also said women are stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organised leaders.
Work-life balance too was not a factor, the survey showed. While economic research and previous survey findings showed that career interruptions related to motherhood might make it harder for women to advance in their careers, relatively few adults in the recent Pew Research survey pointed to this as a key barrier for women seeking leadership roles.
If Americans think men and women make equally good political leaders but say men have an advantage when it comes to getting top positions, what do they think is holding women back?
While there was no clear consensus, about four in ten (38%) said a major factor is that women who run for office are held to higher standards than men and need to do more to prove themselves. About an equal share (37%) said many Americans aren’t ready to elect a woman to higher office, and 27% said women who are active in party politics get less support from party leaders.
At least a third said these are not reasons that there aren’t more women in high political offices.
Compared to their share of the US population, women remain underrepresented at virtually all levels of elected office, but the recent Pew Research survey findings suggested this was not due to a lack of confidence on the part of the public.
A strong majority (75%) said women and men make equally good political leaders. Some 14% said men generally make better political leaders than women, and 9% said women make better leaders than men.
Read:Hillary Clinton enters White House race, seeks to be 1st female US president