The Leadership Gender Gap

Historically, women have had to fight for their voice in United States politics and in world of business. They have succeeded in many regards; women gained the right to vote in 1920 and are now active members of the American workforce. Yet despite making up just over half of the total American population today, women are still significantly underrepresented in both government and business leadership positions.

Since the first female Congress member was elected in 1917, the growth of female national government leadership has been slow. Now, a century later, a mere fifth of Congress consists of women. Only 21.0% of U.S. Senators are women, while only 19.1% of individuals in the House of Representatives are women. These figures are a significant and positive change from the meager 2.0% female representation in the Senate and 2.3% female representation in the House seen in 1965. However, the ratio of women to men in Congress is still not proportional to the total American population.

This disparity in gender representation is more pronounced in the business sector, with even fewer female leaders relative to their total population. In 2017, a measly 5.4% of Fortune 500 company CEOs are women, and as recently as 1995 there were no female CEOs for any Fortune 500 company.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, the American public has mixed explanations for why women face difficulty obtaining top political office and business executive positions. The most prevalent views involve society’s perception of women: about 43% of respondents felt that there are fewer female leaders because women are held to higher standards than men, and about 37% felt that the U.S. is “not ready” to hire or elect women leaders. A smaller portion of respondents believe that personal qualities are to blame for the lack of female leaders. Approximately a fifth of respondents felt that women’s commitment to family is a contributing factor, and less than 10% felt that women are not tough enough for these positions or that they don’t make good managers.

Whatever the case, the glass ceiling of leadership needs to be shattered to ensure that there is accurate representation of the American people in our national government and in business.


Kaitlyn Bieniek