The elections this past November have set a significant milestone for the nation, with a record number of women being elected to the House of Representatives. There are now more than 120 women serving in Congress, and come January, that number will increase to 125. From Maine to California, across the Deep South and the Heartland, women leaders are playing an increasingly powerful governing role, shaping policy, and continually chipping away at the proverbial glass ceiling.
At every level, Republicans are leading the way. In the next Congress, Republicans will welcome the youngest woman ever elected to serve, 30-year-old Elise Stefanik from upstate New York. From Utah, Mia Love will become the first African-American Republican woman to serve in Congress. And in neighboring Iowa, Senator-elect Joni Ernst will become the first woman to represent the Hawkeye State in the United States Senate.
Despite these gains, however, America still has a long way to go before women are proportionately represented in elected office. The percentage of women holding statewide and state legislative office, for instance, still hovers around the 20-year average of 25 percent. Of our nation’s 100 largest cities, only twelve are led by female mayors. And when it comes to governorships, only five states currently have women in the top post.
I should probably also add that Congress is still doing better than the private sector in elevating women to positions of leadership. Among Fortune 500 companies, a mere 26 companies have chosen women to serve in the chief executive role. That means only five percent of our nation’s largest companies are led by women. And when it comes to the presidencies of American colleges and universities, just 26 percent of them are women.
In fact, a recent study by the Center for Voting and Democracy estimates it will take 500 years at our current pace before women serve in leadership roles proportional to their makeup of the population. That needs to change.
Fourteen years ago, when I first ran for Peoria’s District 150 School Board as a 19-year old write-in candidate, there were people who told me I was too young and inexperienced to do the job. Years later, when I ran successfully for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly, I heard the same thing.
But I have consistently argued that young people have a great deal to offer in public service, and I have worked diligently to recruit and help elect more young people to serve at the local, state and federal levels. In the same way, residual biases against women serving at the highest level of the public and private sectors can only be dispelled by strong, visionary women leaders who are willing to challenge conventional wisdom and the status quo. iBi