My View: What's the chance of a woman president?
On Jan. 21, 2017, millions of women gathered in Washington, D.C., and cities across the country in a demonstration of support for women's rights, for civil rights and in protest of the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
On the one-year anniversary of this historic event, it's a time to reflect on Hillary Clinton's loss, and to consider the question: When will our country elect a woman as president?
Clinton was the first woman to be nominated for U.S. president by a major political party. Her candidacy led many to believe that she could be the first woman to break through the glass ceiling and achieve the presidency. However, her loss in 2016 left many wondering whether our country will ever be led by a woman.
The prospects are dim, if based on history. Research suggests there are four pipelines that have generally led to the U.S. presidency. The first is to serve as a four-star general in the Army — a rank only four women have ever achieved. The second is the vice presidency, an office that no woman has ever held.
The third pipeline is to be a multiterm U.S. senator. But while there currently are 22 women serving in the Senate, many come from states that are commonly considered too small or politically one-sided to produce a presidential candidate, narrowing the field for this pipeline to just a few truly viable female candidates. Finally, the fourth pipeline is sitting governors, which currently include six women. Using the same process of elimination that ruled out many multiterm senators, however, we're left with very few candidates.
What's holding women back? Both structural and cultural barriers keep women from advancing to the U.S. presidency. Structural barriers include the presidential system, which depends more on the media than on support of one's legislative peers, single-member districts and the two-party political system we have in the United States.
Cultural barriers include widely held perceptions that women are better at collaborative offices than executive, "the buck stops here," foreign-policy driven positions such as the presidency. Sadly, some surveys also reveal that women themselves frequently report doubting their own preparedness for high office.
Studies also have found that, for the voice of a collective group to be heard, that group must achieve a critical mass — around 30 percent. If we're going to make progress in bringing more women into the highest levels of leadership, we must focus on filling every room with at least 30 percent women of all backgrounds.
A recent study found that women have just barely reached that critical mass in higher education, where they hold the top job at 30 percent of colleges and universities. I'm proud that at Marylhurst University, we have one of the only all-female executive cabinets in the country, and we make it a priority to put women in positions that advance their careers.
A 30 percent target, while far from parity, is achievable through approaches that already exist. By providing supportive training and financial assistance to diverse groups of women who express a desire to run, we can advance more women through the pipeline and onto 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.