The road to 2016 is shaping up to be an exciting journey. This week, Carly Fiorina officially joined Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail for president. As America ponders if we are “ready” for a woman president, the road to 2016 and beyond provides a unique opportunity to harness women’s political and economic power to elevate women’s voices in important debates and impact this election in a significant way, including supporting and electing more women.
There is an often-told story among women leaders about a common experience they have had in meetings where men significantly outnumber women. Maybe you have heard it. It goes like this: the team or committee is grappling with a problem and everyone is chiming in, offering different approaches and solutions. One of the two or three women present tosses out an idea, but the conversation continues. A few minutes later, one of the men repeats her idea and the group seizes on it as the way to go.
What causes the team to hear him, but not her? Did his deeper voice command reflexive respect? Was he a larger presence, physically or emotionally, or both? Did he speak with more authority?
It’s impossible to know exactly. Yet, it seems clear that a woman with a good idea was treated as “lesser than” the guy who subsequently succeeds with her idea. It also seems to be true that the whole group, women and men alike, discount her.
Nearly all voters say they are open to a woman president and two-thirds say America is ready for a woman president, but most voters tell pollsters that gender will not play a significant role in how they cast their vote. Of course a candidate’s gender will play a role on some level, whether voters are aware of it or not. However, party is far more important than gender as a vote determinant. Even within their party, women voters do not necessarily line up behind the female candidate.