Is fatherhood a bonus and motherhood a penalty when it comes to public power? It seems so, according to a new measure of parenthood and leadership which found that just 14% of the most powerful U.S. leaders are mothers compared to the almost 80% who are fathers.
The Motherhood + Public Power Index looked at the 160 most influential leaders in America — 40 drawn from government, 40 from business, 40 from academia, and 40 from religious communities — and found that just 23 (14.37 percent) of leaders are mothers, 122 (76.2 percent) are fathers and 15 (9.37 percent) are without children. See the list of the most powerful mothers in the U.S. below.
The academic community performed most strongly of the four sectors, with 9 of the top 40 US colleges run by women who are also mothers — almost double the number of mothers in positions of leadership in government and religious communities and more than double the number of top CEOs who are also mothers. In fact, the business sector performed the worst of all sectors measured, with just 4 mothers among the top 40 CEOs.
Interestingly, within government, the U.S. Congress and the Cabinet have the highest proportion of mothers in the top seats of power, followed by the Senate, and coming in last — state governors — as there are no mothers among the governors of the ten largest U.S. States!
In contrast, fathers are well represented across all sectors, securing more than 3 out of every 4 leadership spots, and more than 8 out of every 10 of the most powerful positions in government and business.
By revealing both the absolute and relative lack of mothers in the most influential jobs in the United States, the Index creates a powerful call to action. When mothers are approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population, how can we be satisfied with just 14 percent representation in the halls of power?
When mothers are approximately 40 percent of the US population, how can we be satisfied with just 14 percent representation in the halls of power?
In fact, if we had the same proportion of mothers leading our most powerful institutions as we do in the adult population, mothers would hold 64 of the top 160 government, business, academic and religious leadership positions, not 23. Or to put it another way, the Motherhood+Public Power Index reveals that we need at least 11 more mothers in the 40 most powerful roles in government, 12 more running the top 40 companies, 7 more running the 40 best colleges, and 11 more among the 40 most influential religious leaders.
But the Index raises other important questions. Are fathers overrepresented in the top leadership spots because they hold almost 8 out of 10 leadership positions when just 40% of the U.S. adult population are fathers? And are leaders without children underrepresented in the top spots, especially as the proportion of the population who will not have children is rising.
If we believe that a world where our leaders are truly representative of the populations they serve is a better one, we do need to have more mothers in power, not just here in the U.S. but everywhere. And that does mean fewer fathers holding the top spots. But fewer fathers in power isn’t necessarily a bad story for men, at least for those men who desire more work/family balance in their lives, more time with their families, and liberation from the rigid gender roles that have chained too many men to 50 plus hour work weeks and oppressive masculine work norms.
With more mothers running companies, governments, universities and religions expect a transformation in the way the world works for parents.
With more mothers running companies, governments, universities, and religions expect a transformation in the way the world works for parents, and indeed for everyone who needs to balance caring responsibilities with careers. Expect to see more generous family leave provisions, and a greater use of technology so people don’t have to travel so far and so much for work. Expect to see jobs offering more flexibility in hours worked with greater syncing of the school and workday schedules. Expect to see more integration across workplaces, child care facilities, and schools so employees can move seamlessly among the three during the work day and school year.
And perhaps most revolutionary of all, expect to see a new definition of the “ideal employee” with performance measured in terms of the efficiency with which goals are met rather than hours and face time clocked. A critical mass of mothers in power will create the seismic shift we need to lead more integrated lives, where professional fulfillment does not come at the cost of family and vice versa — to everyone’s benefit.
The Most Powerful Mothers in America: Know Their Names
- Sally Jewell, United States Secretary of the Interior
- Cathy McMorris Rodgers, United States Representative (Washington, 5th Congressional District)
- Patty Murray, United States Senator for Washington
- Nancy Pelosi, United States Representative (California, 12th Congressional District)
- Penny Pritzker, United States Secretary of Commerce
- Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors
- Safra Catz,Co-CEO, Oracle
- Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo
- Meg Whitman, CEO, Hewlett-Packard
- H Kim Bottomly, President, Wellesley College
- Drew Gilpin Faust, President, Harvard University
- Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania
- Catharine Bond Hill, President, Vassar College
- Michelle Johnson, Superintendent, United States Air Force Academy
- Christina Paxson, President, Brown University
- Carol Quillen, President, Davidson College
- Debora Spar, President, Barnard College
- Teresa Sullivan, President, University of Virginia
- Roma Downey, Producer, “The Bible”, “A.D. The Bible Continues”
- Mary Ann Glendon, Professor, Harvard Law School
- Joyce Meyer, Joyce Meyer Ministries
- Victoria Osteen, Lakewood Church
- Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church of the United States
Leith Greenslade is a Vice-Chair at the MDG Health Alliance, a special initiative of the UN Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman, Every Child movement, and an advocate for the advancement of women and children everywhere.