Motherhood and Public Power

By Leith Greenslade

May 23, 2018

Have you ever wondered how many of our most powerful leaders are also mothers?

 

If the answer is no, don’t feel bad because you are not alone.  When I asked myself that question I immediately googled it to see what kind of information was out there.  There was nothing.  Looking back, I’m not surprised by that. The world has been having a very intense and important conversation about the number of women relative to men in leadership roles, but have we been missing something?

I created the Motherhood+Public Power Index to find out.  I wanted to build a tool that measured, over time and across countries, just how many of the most powerful jobs in government, business, academia and civil society are actually held by women who are also mothers. I was also curious about the proportion of top jobs held by fathers and those held by leaders without children, especially women without children.

The 2018 results are more shocking that I expected them to be, because it feels like the world is really changing (#MeToo, #TimesUp etc).  But the Index shows that just 6 out of every 100 of the most powerful leaders across four of the largest and most powerful countries in the world – the USA, China, Russia and India, are women with children.  In stark contrast, more than 80 out of every 100 top jobs are held by fathers. 

Mothers do slightly better in the USA, holding 18 of the top 160 jobs (11%), compared to mothers in India, who hold just 9 of the 160 most powerful positions (6%). Mothers in China and Russia fare the worst, holding a paltry 6 of the top 160 jobs (4%) in each country.

Of the four sectors measured by the Motherhood+Public Power Index, universities and governments perform best in promoting leaders who are also mothers into the top jobs. This is due to the larger number of USA universities led by women who are also mothers, and to the stronger representation of women in the USA, Russian and Indian governments, relative to other sectors.

In contrast, the business and billionaire sectors record the lowest representation of mothers, with only 7  among the top 160 CEOs and 6 on the list of top 160 billionaires across the USA, China, Russia and India.

The conclusion could not be clearer – mothers are dramatically underrepresented in the halls of power in the USA, China, Russia and India, while fathers are clearly over represented. Having children is a barrier to public power and influence for only one gender.

If the USA, China, Russia and India had the same proportion of mothers leading their most powerful institutions as they do in the population (40%), we would expect to see 46 more mothers in the top jobs in the USA, 55 more in India, and 58 more in Russia and China.

Since the Motherhood+Public Power Index was launched in 2015, there has been no progress in the proportion of women with children among the most powerful leaders. In fact, the rate in the USA has fallen from 14% in 2015 to 11% in 2018.

The even lower rates across China, Russia and India speak to the steep barriers to leadership women with children still face in the most powerful countries in the world.

Why does this matter?

I see two powerful reasons to care about the lack of mothers among our most powerful leaders. First, the quality of leadership in the largest and most influential nations in the world matters.  These countries need their very best talent at the helm to tackle a raft of economic and social challenges, not just at home, but also in the rest of world, especially now that we have an ambitious new set of Global Goals to achieve by 2030, including ending poverty, preventable deaths and gender inequality, among others. 

But there is another reason, which is much more personal to the hundreds of millions of women who are currently in the labor force and the many millions more who want to be getting paid for their work.  With more mothers in power shaping government, company, and university policies we can accelerate the transformation of our workplaces that is so desperately needed to trigger the next wave of productivity gains and reductions in inequality.

Greater workplace flexibility will not only broaden the talent pool by attracting more women into the workforce but it will also blur the barriers between work and home unleashing  efficiencies that will enable all of us to be more productive.  With more mothers in power, expect to see the next wave of innovations – from artificial intelligence to driverless cars to virtual reality – transforming our homes, workplaces, schools and cities so that all of us can move more seamlessly between work, home and school and lead more fulfilling and productive lives.

The Motherhood + Public Power Index 2018 can be found here

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