This is the fourth in a series of reports published by Change The Story on topics related to women’s economic status. There are a number of important connections between women’s leadership in political, civic and professional spheres and women’s economic security. Perhaps most obvious is the fact that leadership positions are generally rewarded with higher pay and better benefits. Beyond individual finances, research clearly demonstrates that gender balance in leadership— and indeed diversity in its many forms—contributes to better decision-making and improves the overall bottom line.
As all of these reports seek to establish a baseline against which we can measure progress in future years, this one focuses on leadership roles that can be identified and counted in spheres where access to such data is possible. Accordingly, we have focused our attention on elected or appointed public servants at the state and municipal levels, on leaders of critical community institutions, and on leaders of organizations in the private and non-profit sectors.
That said, it is important that we acknowledge the myriad other ways in which Vermont women and men serve as leaders, many of them unrecognized by traditional measures but nonetheless critically important.
Most of the data in this report is either new or not regularly collected or published. All of it is specific to Vermont and is vitally important—not just in terms of what it reflects about women, but because of its implications for the state as a whole.
Among our findings:
By some measures Vermont is a national pacesetter in its share of women in public leadership.
• Women are 39.4% of those serving in Vermont’s General Assembly, 60% of the state’s Supreme Court Justices, 43% of Executive Cabinet members and 50% of its public university and college presidents.
However, Vermont’s progress in achieving gender parity in leadership arenas has been uneven, slow-going or in some cases nonexistent.
• Just one of Vermont’s six statewide officials is a woman, trailing the national average by 7 percentage points. Indeed, of the 296 individuals ever elected to statewide office, only 11 have been women.
• Vermont and Mississippi are the only two states that have never sent a woman to Congress.
• While women’s participation in Vermont’s General Assembly is the second highest in the country, the pace of change has essentially leveled off since 1993; in 24 years, women’s share of legislative seats has increased by just four percentage points.
When only 8% of Vermont’s highest grossing companies and 2 of its 15 hospitals are led by women, we can be certain that we are not making full use of all our state’s talent.
Questions we should ask:
What messages are we sending to women and girls about leadership?
What are the characteristics we associate with leadership and how do they impact women’s participation?
• How do we know leadership potential when we see it?
• Do we actively address hidden biases in ourselves and our culture that might negatively impact a woman’s chances of being elevated to leadership – or might dissuade her from applying?
How do we define gender balance? How do we use data to know we’re making progress toward gender balance?
• What is the long-term impact of gender imbalance in Vermont’s public, private and non-profit spheres?
What are the existing pathways to leadership for women in Vermont?
• How deliberate are our efforts to recruit and prepare girls and women to take on leadership roles?
• What are we doing to ensure those pathways are available equally to men and women?
• Are we using relevant data to understand how many women are in Vermont’s leadership “pipeline”?
• How can we approach defining new pathways to leadership?
In the public sector…
• Are we making a deliberate effort to expose girls and young women to a full range of careers in public service – and to encourage them to think of it as a viable path?
• Do we encourage and support women to run for elected office? Are our training programs and recruitment strategies encouraging to or specifically designed for women?
• What are the unspoken “rules” about how to pursue higher office? How do we encourage women to better position themselves to reach those offices?
• Do the structures (e.g. compensation, hours and family-friendly practices) of our public service positions encourage broad participation?
• What is the value to setting goals for gender balance on public governing bodies?
In the private and non-profit sectors…
• How deliberate are our actions to promote women to decision-making positions? Do we actively recruit women to serve on boards and apply for management positions?
• How diverse is the pool of candidates for internal promotions to leadership positions?
• Do we sponsor women for leadership roles at the same rate as men? Do women have access to both formal and informal mentors and networks?
• Are we analyzing pay scales for gender equity and making necessary adjustments to hiring and promotion policies?
• Do our organizations have intentional, stated goals for gender balance on boards, in our executive teams and in senior management?
• Do we support women to take part in leadership training programs?
• Can workplace strategies, such as flexibility and telecommuting, enable more women to advance into positions of higher responsibility?