Here’s a game: guess what percentage of Congress is female. Too hard? Okay, would you say it’s higher or lower than in Mexico? How about in Cambodia? Duh, it’s lower than Sweden’s, but do you think it’s higher or lower than in the UAE? It’s lower, on all three counts, a paltry 17%.
To be fair, some of these countries have instituted quota systems, mandating a certain percentage of seats be held for women (like Algeria). That’s certainly one way of going about it, but it wouldn’t my first choice.
Let’s look at another chart. This one is a state-by-state look at laws benefiting new parents. This comes from the National Partnership for Women and Families via Mother Jones. Laws like parental leave, paid sick days, and breastfeeding protections are rolled into the score.
A quota system that mandates X% of seats be held by women (or any other marginalized group of people), doesn’t address the causes of inequality, but attempts to rectify it through opportunity grants. The problem with a quota is that it undermines the very people it attempts to elevate by explicitly declaring their participation is a result of government action, instead of merit (or luck, wealth, notoriety and all the other ways people get elected in this country).
Some people make the same argument about affirmative action (which allows an institution to use race as a consideration in decision-making, but not to have quotas). Any black student or female MBA candidate who has ever heard (or read in the faces of their colleagues), “You’re only here because you’re X” knows that some people still view their success as a perk of their demographic profile.
I posted the new parent map because a solution that only looks forward and neglects the cause of disparity is no solution at all; it’s a band-aid. Recent research shows that the greatest income gap (and also achievement) is not between men and women, but between women with children and women without. In our society, women typically take on a substantially higher percentage of child care responsibilities, so laws affecting child care and family leave disproportionately affect women. There are a lot of reasons that women don’t get elected for office, but the biggest one is because they don’t run. Give women the tools and resources to pursue any professional goal (political or otherwise), and maybe we’ll see those numbers improve.
In other words, if you want to fix that chart at the top (and maybe compete with Cambodia), we have to fix the map first.
Related Post: Happy Equal Pay Day and why the wage gap persists.
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