Advancing Women Leaders: A Global Effort

with Gwen Young of The Wilson Center

Women comprise half of the world population, yet are substantially underrepresented in political leadership positions.

Gwen Young, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative at the Wilson Center, shares how her organization is working to achieve gender parity in public service worldwide.

Posted on:

Mar 04, 2019

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: The global population is split nearly 50-50 between women and men. And while women are closing the worldwide gender gap in areas like health and education, significant gender inequality persists in politics. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Joining me for a discussion on efforts to promote equal representation in government is Gwen Young, director of the Global Women´s Leadership Initiative at the Wilson Center. And, Gwen, thank you for being our guest today.

Young: Thank you. Good morning.

Hyland: So, the Wilson Center produced the Global Women´s Leadership Initiative Index. It is called the "Roadmap to 50x50." What was studied that had never been quantified before, and what was the goal of the report?

Young: There were two things that had never been quantified before. First of all, this index is unique in the sense that it covers the five sectors of government, so not just elected office and politics, but it covers the executive, legislative, judicial, national security, and civil service. The other reason it´s unique is the methodology. So, we´re looking not just at the positions women hold, but we´re looking at what we call the pathways -- how did they get there, and once they´re there, how much power they hold. So, what are they doing once they´re there, how much power do they have to change policies, to change institutions, and to change behaviors?

Hyland: And what did you find, both globally and here in the United States?

Young: Well, we found a couple things. First of all, the best sector of government is the civil service globally. So, women are about 43% of civil services across the globe, and they´re about 29% of the leadership, so it´s about a 14% gap. We also found that education matters, which is according to your opening remarks and studies. But what we found is not just formal education, but vocational education. What we found out in the U.S. is we´re not doing that great. We´re about 77th in the world right now in terms of gender equality. We have what´s called flat parity in the U.S. It´s very hard for women to rise. We´ve never had a woman head of the Department of Defense, never had a female president, and we haven´t had, really, women sort of across all sectors of government. So, they may be able to rise high in some areas. You know, and the latest now is we´re at our highest ever for Congress. We´re at about 24%, 131 women. But that´s still pretty low comparatively.

Hyland: And yet you want to get to equal parity by 2050.

Young: Absolutely.

Hyland: How are we going to achieve that goal globally?

Young: We´re gonna achieve that goal globally by a couple things. First is we´re gonna have to have countries absolutely making commitments. So, countries like Canada, Spain, and France, Ethiopia, that have already made these commitments, have gender-equal cabinets. The next thing we´re gonna have to do is we´re gonna have to look at parties. We´re gonna have to use affirmative measures. In some countries, they use quota. But we´re gonna have to make an affirmative effort to bring in more women. We´re gonna have to change policies in order to make that happen.

Hyland: You have said it´s not just enough for women to break the glass ceiling. What more do they have to do?

Young: We want them at every table. We want women around every decision-making table. So, we were talking prior to this. Women sit often -- two-thirds -- in health and education ministries. We´re only about 13% of economy ministries. We want women at every table. We want them deciding infrastructure policy, defense policy, finance policy, so they need to be across all sectors of government. So, it´s easy to say we want them at the table and we want them setting the agenda and inviting people to the table.

Hyland: Gwen, what are the challenges, though, to getting women in these positions of power, particularly in another 30 years or so?

Young: Part of the challenges are two things. One is networks. So, women rise up in government or rise up in politics through networks. And in many countries, these networks are the parties, and these networks are controlled by men, and we just don´t have the sheer numbers of women to create the networks. The other thing that are holding us back is really perception. So, one of the things we look at in the index is a simple statement -- "Do you agree or disagree that men make better political leaders than women do?" When two-thirds of the country disagrees with that statement, meaning they think men are equal, women do better. But when society believes that -- So we have a lot to do around perceptions. And we´re starting to see that change in publicity, in the Gillette ad and the Dove Men+Care campaign. But we have to just start changing perceptions of what women are and can be.

Hyland: And that´s a good question -- How do we do that? How do we change people´s perceptions about women in government?

Young: We start at the household. So, we start -- You know, I say to people, "Look around as to who does what chores in your house, how you talk to your children about what their career paths are." There´s a lot of work right now with women in STEM. You know, you should treat girls and boys in the household equal chores, equal possibilities. So, part of it is just starting with your day-to-day life and how you talk about women and men, and how you talk about their career paths.

Hyland: All right. So, we have a long way to go still to get to parity. Are you hopeful that we´ll get to that place eventually some day?

Young: I´m incredibly hopeful. You know, I see these waves, not just in our Congress, but across the globe with some of the countries I mentioned. Slovenia just appointed a woman to head up the armed services. And I´ve lived in Africa for a lot of my career, and I see strong women, I see traditional chiefs that are annulling child marriages, I see practices around FGM changing. So I am hopeful. We are still 50% of the population, and our voices are becoming louder.

Hyland: Yes, they are. Gwen Young, thank you so much for being with us from the Wilson Center. And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Sheila Hyland. ♫♫ ♫♫

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