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Under-Representation of Women in Corporate and Political Offices

Women In Corporate and Political OfficesWomen comprise more than half the population in the US (157 million compared to 151.8 million men) according to 2010 Census data. Based on numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represent 46.6% of the US labor force. It stands to reason then, that women’s representation in executive roles across corporate and political offices should also align with those percentages, right? Clearly this is not the case.

By The Numbers

– 16.6% of Fortune 500 company directors are women [up from 16.1% last year]
– 14.3% of Fortune 500 company executives are women [up from 14.1% last  year]
– 8.1% of top earners in the Fortune 500 are female [up from 7.5%]

These stats are highlights from a new Catalyst research group study on women in Fortune 500 companies. If I were a woman, I’d be indignant at the makeup [no pun intended] of corporate America; as a man, I don’t take it personally but it certainly gives me reason to reflect.  Why are so few women in senior roles?  Women are no less capable than men of performing at these levels, yet the executive representation is sorely lacking.

Women still wield a great amount of power in the US as evidenced in the last Presidential election. According to CNN’s exit polls, 55% of women and 45% of men voted for the winner, President Obama, whereas only 44% of women and 52% of men voted for challenger, Mitt Romney. In political office however,  in the US  at least, the inclusion of women is moving at a similar “snail’s pace.”  Prior to the 2012 US federal election, according to the Women & Politics Institute in Washington, DC, the percentage of women in US elected offices were:

– US Senators: 17.0%
– Members of U.S House of Representatives: 16.8%
– State Governors: 12%
– Statewide Elected Officials: 22.4%
– State Legislators: 23.6%
– Mayors of the 100 Largest Cities: 8:0%

The United States still ranks only 79th in the world in terms of women’s political representation (tied with Morocco and Venezuela at last check), based on data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Why Such a Discrepancy in Representation?

The fact remains that for personal, cultural or religious reasons many women choose to take time out of the corporate world – on a part-time or permanent basis – to work at raising their families. Yes, men are also choosing to stay at home to manage the family and kids but that number is still very small.  According to Census data, there are 176,000 men in the US who claim to be “stay-at-home dads”.  That number has doubled since the last census but still only represents .08 percent of married couples with one parent at home. Throw in dads who work at home (freelance, contract work, etc.) and take care of the kids as a result and that number is still just under 3%.

I’m by no means suggesting that this is the main or sole reason that women are not better represented in corporate or political leadership, yet this reality skews the expectation of a 50/50 balance doesn’t it?


Research identifies that in families where both parents work outside the home, regardless of who has the higher income, the wife still performs the lion’s share of all house-related work duties as well as childcare duties – cooking, cleaning, bill paying, appointment scheduling etc.  Are women less likely to commit to a career path that may require even more of their limited time and energy?

This post is not an answer, it’s a question.  Why the under-representation of women in corporate and political offices?

Can we/should we expect 50/50 representation in senior roles? Are women poorly represented at the boardroom table and across elected offices because of a glass ceiling established by men? A by-product of culture?  Or do not enough women seek such office?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego

Graph Image Credit: Philip N. Cohen
Image Credit: Pixabay, via Creative Commons License



Join the Conversation

JoeCardillo 5pts

I have a huge amount of respect for everyone here but I disagree with almost everything said so far.


 @samfiorella  "On a side note, can you imagine what our world would be if men were primary caregivers? EEEK. (I'm only 1/2 joking)."

*Culturally, it would scare the pants off of a lot of people. Biologically/scientifically, it might not be a big deal at all. Unfortunately there is not yet a large statistical sample to break down, but so far there's no evidence of men being unable to parent. My brother is a great SAHD and also handles the "lion's share" of household responsibilities in addition to being the primary wage earner. He does fine, as do many SAHDs, including my brother-in-law. We know from research that maternal instinct is hardwired, but there is very little research into men being hardwired for parenting....probably because it's not culturally acceptable yet. What will be interesting (and possibly put the idea to rest that men aren't really wired for parenting) is when we have significant analysis of parenting by two men (anecdotally, what I said above holds true as well for gay men I know who parent, though it's only two couples). Per my note below asking @rebelbrown about research, there's also emerging evidence that parenting is connected to brain chemical makeup, and not some essential male or female-ness. Gender is not nearly as rigid as we once thought.


Re: Opportunity / tradeoffs for women in the workplace. You're all smarter than me, have more years of experience, and a great deal of passion. But I wonder if there is a huge blindspot happening here.


To pose a question: you have made it, you are working professionals, and very good at your respective fields of tech/startups/PR/marketing/communications.  Do you believe that you got here because you are good at what you do, and not because of some arbitrary categorical distinction (gender, race, religion, etc...)? I hope so. But I'd suspect you had some help along the way. 


@ginidietrich @rebelbrown @profkrg  I don't doubt for a second that you all are successful because you work incredibly long hours***, have made sacrifices, cared about learning lessons, and refused to bow to misogyny in the workplace. But this idea that women have all the opportunities that men do and are simply opting out because they want to be parents or focus on homelife or can't hack it, I just can't buy that. You are GREAT EXAMPLES of how women can be as successful as men in business, and you blazed your own trail. I don't think you did it because you are women, I think you did it because you are good, but access is and always has been the key to success. And access is always a matter of privilege, even when intentions are good.


I'd argue that the reason women aren't in senior executive positions in large numbers is because privilege is still operating, both overtly and covertly. When a board full of men votes another man into their circle they can all be perfectly nice people and hey maybe you've even had drinks with them or gotten to know their wonderful families, but they are still subconsciously protecting their privilege. And you know what, it's bad for everyone. It's infuriating to women and it makes men dumber. Variety is good. Especially when that variety includes giving 51% of the population the voice / representation they deserve.


I know I'm getting long winded here, but just a couple of final points:


1) Politics is a great example of how this problem is changing. Love him or hate him, President Obama has made it a priority to appoint well qualified women to higher offices. The U.S. Senate has more women than ever. Tammy Baldwin, who I worked for in Wisconsin, is now the first openly gay senator we've ever had. And you know what, they didn't get there in a vacuum, they got there because they had support from men and women along the way who wanted it to be different. If you want it to be different you have to make it different. To every old school male dominated company or organization that says they "are always open to women but there aren't any that are qualified" (I'm looking at you, Davos) I say take a page from Etsy's play book ( http://qz.com/52277/etsy-figured-out-how-to-fin-more-women-engineers/ ) and then come back and tell us the same thing.


2)  @samfiorella @profkrg The Etsy example above is my response to your desire to simply promote the best people. My point is: it's not as simple as posting a job and then saying, "why didn't any qualified women show up?"

If you have never seen an ocean or body of water before and someone takes you out on a boat and drops you in, will you drown? I won't belabor the point, but suffice it to say you can't just throw people out there and then use their failure to reinforce your point. Everyone has help on the way up and like Gini said it's up to all of us change this paradigm. 


Ok I'm done (except for the footnote below on hours) Thanks for (I hope) humoring me.


- Joe



***Who's to say the long hours are good for men or women? I think there's a kind of old school built-in "ism" to measuring someone's ability by how many hours they can work. I've seen people do in 5 hours what others do in 20, and even w/research and the widely known and tested 80/20 principle we still seem to think that the problem is women have to choose between parenting / homelife and corporate success. Of course I'm not dumb, I get that there are companies/orgs where expectations are just higher. But if the upper echelon of business has to cut from 120 hours a week expected to 80 and someone's husband has to share parenting 50/50 then fine, that's a cost we better be willing to pay to get the voice of women into senior leadership roles. If we don't we are sabotaging ourselves.








AmyMccTobin 5pts

Shame on me not reading this post - it's something I am PASSIONATE about.  I read about it over on Spin Sucks.


WE need to make it happen, and by that I mean women. @ginidietrich covered it in her www.spinsucks.com post, and I think she's right. WE need to GO AFTER those jobs if we want them, and we need to help each other along.

ginidietrich 5pts

I just read that organizers of Davos were concerned about the small number of women attending so they asked organizations to open up invitations to senior-level women who were not necessarily on the executive team, but had a solid career path for getting there. I can't remember the stat, but an extraordinarily high number of attendees opted not to take advantage so the women attending was still far and few between.


I'm not sure what the answer is. I see this when I travel. The people who have airline status are (me) and a bunch of men. Occasionally I'll see another woman out there on the road. When people find out how much I travel and that I own a business, you know what the first thing out of their mouths is? "Oh you can do it because you don't have kids."


It's total BS, but it's a cultural and societal thing. 

Latest blog post: The Three Things, Edition 18

profkrg 5pts

You hit on a key point here, which is that many women are completely or predominately responsible for children and their needs. This creates some unique challenges for women in the workplace. Some that I don't think men feel as much.

That being said, I don't think gender should matter one way or the other. The best person for the role should be employed, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. 

I am perhaps just as bothered by the idea that we "need more women" in executive roles. We need the best people in executive roles. Once we base all of our decisions on that, the workforce will be a much better place.

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rebelbrown 5pts

Great post Sam 

Having been one of the first women ever in tech companies - I have a very different perspective on women and business.  You see, I began my career with a glass ceiling, sexual harassment, swaggering dudes and worse.  I know what it feels like to be oppressed simply because I was the first woman to grace the sales force of some huge tech companies.  I experienced the shock when, at the age of 25, a client told me to sleep with him if I wanted the deal for the $10M mainframe. That wasn't the worst shock - the worst one was when my boss looked me in the eye and asked, "So what's the problem?" 

I can count of at least 10 times back then when I was sexually harassed  propositioned and worse. All of which would make me MILLIONS in law suits today.  Yes - times have changed. BIG TIME. 

Which is why I get so frustrated when I see all the comments about women being oppressed.  Come on, today's situations are NOTHING compared to the wild west of the past.

What I truly believe is that one reason there aren't more women in corporate and political leadership is because so many of us CHOOSE to take an alternative path.  We self select - whether it be to raise kids or start our own businesses.  We don't stay in corporations as long as men, we move from job to job, company to company, we leave the corporate world entirely....and yet we expect the same representation as men who will literally stay with a company for the long term and plod their way up the ladder.

I also see a trend in many comments that seems to me like women are asking for special treatment.  We want to have it all.  for example, I had someone tell me she wanted to leave  the workforce to have kids,but couldn't understand when she couldn't  come back to the same status after ten years off.  Come on - no one would do that for a man so why should we be special?

In my experience, the women who become senior executives often give up a lot to get ahead. Often that includes their femininity. They play like the boys and work just like them too. That's not a negative comment - it's truth.  

The thing is, women's brains are wired so differently from men's that corporate jobs often don't give us the reward we need to feel successful. We're wired with 8x the nurturing and communication centers of a man. Just as men are wired with 5-7x the aggression we have.  Its part of our brain function. 

What if the reason there aren't more women is simply  because we self select to find more enjoyable and fulfilling pursuits.  What if we don't plod up the ladder like men but rather, find out own ladders that deliver a different level of satisfaction?  

I don't buy the age old plot of men versus women and that stuffy old glass ceiling.  Not in today's world.  I lived in that world and it died a long long time ago.   In fact, I think we do ourselves and injustice when we continue with the same old arguments.  Especially in today's world when so many men in fact see us and treat us as equals.  

I do buy the idea that women simply have a different way to reach for fulfillment - and it doesn't have to live in the old structure of the corporate world. 

Respectfully.... and truly from my heart...


barrettrossie 5pts

"I'm just going to sit here and listen as @ginidietrich and the rest of my employees chime in." -- Charles Armant.


  1. […] A couple of weeks ago, Sam Fiorella wrote an interesting blog post called, “Under-Representation of Women in Corporate and Political Offices.” […]

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