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Why Do So Few US Women Hold Top Jobs?

In this Jan. 4, 2007 file photo, newly-elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, holds up the gavel surrounded by children and grandchildren of members of Congress in the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Pelosi was the first woman elected as Speaker. (AP File Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

In this Jan. 4, 2007 file photo, newly-elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, holds up the gavel surrounded by children and grandchildren of members of Congress in the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Pelosi was the first woman elected as Speaker. (AP File Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

A new study confirms what most people already know: American women are still far behind American men in taking top leadership jobs in business and politics.

The Pew Research Center in Washington, DC produced the study. Pew researchers found that most Americans believe women have the right qualities to be leaders. But they say women may still not be hired into leadership positions.

"On the one hand, the public thinks that women are just as qualified as men to be in top leadership positions, in business and in government, on the other hand the public feels it is easier for men to get those jobs, and the public is also skeptical that things are going to change in the future, particularly on the business front.”

Kim Parker directs social trends at the Pew Research Center. She says the new study found that Americans think men and women have the same intelligence and ability to create new things. But Americans think women and men have some different abilities.

For instance, they believe women are especially good at finding compromises. In other words, women can find ways for people to agree, or at least accept solutions. The study also found Americans see women as more compassionate and organized leaders than men.

Americans also believe women are better leaders for social issues, such as education and health care. But Americans see men as better leaders on national defense and security.

Women in business

Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck

In the business world, Americans say women still have challenges at the top. Sallie Krawcheck would know. She held top jobs at leading financial companies such as Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

“I never saw overt gender discrimination when I was at these companies, when I was at Bank of America, Citi, which owned Merrill and Smith Barney, but I certainly did see a lot of individuals making choices about promotions, or people to move ahead or new projects to give, in which recipients were people who looked a lot like themselves.”

In 2008, the financial company Citigroup dismissed Ms. Krawcheck from her top level job. Ms. Krawcheck says that for years she had said she was not fired because she was a woman. Now, she says maybe that is possible. Because, she explains, she wanted to solve a problem in a different way than the rest of the other leaders, all of whom were men. In time, the other leaders accepted her plan, but the company later dismissed her.

Ms. Krawcheck says women often have different approaches than men, and they have different strengths. As a result, she says, teams that include a variety of people are better.

"The power of diversity, diversity of all kinds, diversity of gender, of color of thought of perspective, that those are additive, and the diverse teams are actually so powerful that they outperform more intelligent teams. "

Sallie Krawcheck now heads two companies. One company, called Ellevate, connects women with each other and supports their professional and financial success. She says her company is an important part of a bigger trend. People around the world, she says, are talking about how important female leaders are.

“We are having an absolutely amazing global conversation about the positive impact of the economic and financial engagement of women."

How does the U.S. compare?

In another study, the Pew Research Center compared the number of women in the U.S. legislature to the number of women in similar positions in other developed nations. The study found the U.S. was in the lower half.

Drew DeSilver is a senior writer for Pew.

“We stand at almost exactly 20 percent of the membership of the House and Senate are women and that would put the United States in about 29th place out of 49 countries studied, tied with the Czech republic and Saudi Arabia.”

Even getting to that 20 percent of the Congress has taken a long time, Mr. DeSilver says.

"It’s taken almost a century for the United States to go from one woman from the very first woman in Congress to having 20% of women in Congress, and that, most of that, most of the increase has taken place in the last 20 years."

When it comes to women in high-level presidential cabinet jobs, America has done better. Now, close to one-third of President Obama’s advisors in his cabinet are women. That percentage places the United States at 13 among the 49 countries studied.

But of course, America has yet to elect a woman president. In contrast, women have served as president or prime minister in countries from Great Britain to Brazil, from Israel to India, and Ireland to Argentina.

Researcher Drew DeSilver said in some parts of the world, such as in Scandinavia, political parties are required to nominate an equal number of women and men. Therefore, women and men can hold an equal number of seats in the parliament. Such requirements can help women reach more cabinet level positions as well.

The U.S. has no similar requirements for political parties. But even so, Pew researchers found most Americans think they will see a woman president in their lifetimes. Some observers say that person might be Hillary Clinton.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

While it is difficult to predict the future, Professor Larry Sabato from the University of Virginia Center for Politics said in January he thinks Hillary Clinton will run for president with the Democratic Party.

"She is a heavy, heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee. She hasn’t formally announced. Some people think she might not run. That would be an enormous shock. I think she will run, she will be the nominee."

With or without a woman president, an increasing number of women in the U.S. are already serving in their state legislatures. And, researcher Kim Parker says that across the country, more women than men hold managerial and professional jobs. In time, those women may also rise to the top in politics and business.

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball reported and wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

trend -n. a general direction of change: a way of behaving, proceeding, etc., that is developing and becoming more common

compassionate – adj. feeling or showing concern for someone who is sick, hurt, poor, etc.: having or showing compassion

challenge –n. a difficult task or problem : something that is hard to do

overt –adj. easily seen : not secret or hidden

approach –n. a way of dealing with something : a way of doing or thinking about something.

diversity –n. the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.

Do women in your country have many high level jobs in business or politics? Why or why not? Tell us what you think in the comments section below. We want to hear from you.

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