By Robin Strongin. No less an authority than the President of the United States has made it clear how he feels about the importance of having women well represented in the highest levels of the federal government. In an executive proclamation, the President said:
“As you know, it has been my desire to attract the ablest and most talented people in the country to join this Administration and assist in the achievement of our far-reaching goals. The Nation’s many highly qualified women represent an important reservoir of ability and talent that we must draw on to a greater degree. In this Administration we have firmly espoused the rights of women, and we must now clearly demonstrate our recognition of the equality of women by making greater use of their skills in high level positions.”
That President, by the way, was Richard Nixon, and he issued that proclamation over 40 years ago, in 1971.
In the decades since, we’ve seen eight different Presidents occupy the White House. We’ve witnessed tremendous economic, technological, social and political changes that have transformed our country. And yet, the gap between words and deeds when it comes to gender equity in both the public and private sectors of the United States remains largely unchanged.
Prominent and successful women like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or Xerox CEO Ursula Burns receive so much attention not only because of their personal achievements, but also because they have so few female peers in fields dominated by men.
We’re going to be discussing this issue at a screening of the documentary film, “Miss Representation,” taking place February 23 at the National Press Club. The event is cosponsored by Disruptive Women in Health Care and the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), and will feature a panel discussion in which I will be joined by the film’s writer/director Jennifer Seibel Newsom, Clinton, NJ mayor Janice Kovach and HBA 2008 Woman of the Year Charlotte Sibley.
No doubt we’ll discuss the lack of women in government leadership positions – not just in Washington, but at all levels. Less than 17 percent of U.S. Senate and House seats and approximately 23 percent of state legislative seats are held by women, as are just eight of the mayoral positions in the nation’s 100 largest cities. Among non-elected positions, women enter government service in large numbers – holding two of every three entry-level positions – but fewer than one in three attains Senior Executive Service status.
Developments haven’t been better in the private sector, where women make up less than nine percent of the highest-paid positions in the list of S&P top 100 companies.
But it’s not enough just to dwell on these current numbers, as unacceptable as they are. Any discussion has to go to the roots of the problem. Have we seen any real progress in the way girls and women are portrayed in popular media when we see 65 percent of American females reporting some kind of eating disorder and the number of cosmetic surgical procedures on teenagers tripling between 1997 and 2007, that tells me we’re not seeing a plethora of TV commercials or storylines focusing on women who are determining public policy or leading successful companies.
It’s appropriate that, in the month in which we celebrate President’s Day, we raise questions about why no woman has been elected to serve in the Oval Office or a lot of other executive offices for that matter.
I suspect, if he were still with us, even Richard Nixon might agree.
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