The Tipping Point and the Influence of Women

By Brenna Kehew Sculley

by ELYSIAN Magazine

Women have been gaining influence in the political sphere recently, as there has been a noticeable increase in the number of women running for and being elected to public office – almost enough to have a critical mass of influence and make a real impact. This assessment of critical mass comes from Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works, a book written by Jay Newton-Small, a journalist and author who covered politics and women’s issues for over a decade.  

Broad Influence was published in 2016 (before the November election), and it explores the impact of women on American politics and society. Newton-Small argued that women are transforming the way America works by bringing new perspectives, approaches, and skills to a range of fields, including politics, business, and technology. 

As we look at the gains women have made in recent years, we look back to when Newton-Small published Broad Influence. As a political correspondent for TIME, she wrote an iconic article about the bipartisan efforts of women during the 2012 government shutdown. Her book argues that once women’s participation reaches a key tipping point of at least 20 percent of a group, they can “change the culture and influence outcomes.” 

Overall, Broad Influence offers a compelling and inspiring look at the power of women to shape the future of America that is relevant today. 

Newton-Small conducted extensive research for Broad Influence through a combination of interviews, archival research, and data analysis.

To gather information for the book, Newton-Small interviewed more than 100 women in positions of power, including politicians, business leaders, academics, and activists. She also spoke with men who work closely with women leaders to get their perspective on the impact of women in their fields. The interviews provided her with firsthand accounts of the challenges and opportunities facing women leaders and helped her to craft a nuanced and in-depth portrayal of their experiences.

In addition to the interviews, Newton-Small conducted archival research to uncover historical examples of women who have made a significant impact on American politics and society. She also analyzed data on women’s participation in various fields, including politics, business, and technology, to provide a broader perspective on the trends and patterns shaping women’s leadership.

As of 2021, women held 27% of the seats in Congress, up from 24% in 2019. Some high-profile governorships have turned female, and Kamala Harris made history as the first woman to serve as vice president of the United States. 

According to the Center for American Women in Politics, women have been making gains in statewide elected offices as well. Across the country, 32.7% of all 7,383 state legislative seats are held by women. But this number varies drastically state by state. Nevada is in the lead with over 61.9% of its 63 total statewide seats being held by women, the highest majority of women we’ve ever seen. States like Colorado, Vermont, and Arizona all have had high female representation over the years and have achieved a consistent level close to 50%. States in the Southeastern United States have been lagging behind, with West Virginia being ranked last with just 11% of its legislature represented by women.  

The representation of women in the C-suite, however, has historically been lower than the representation of women in public office. While there has been progress in recent years, women continue to be woefully underrepresented at the highest levels of corporate leadership.

According to a 2021 report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, women hold just 28% of C-suite positions globally, and only 7% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies. These figures have improved only slightly over the past few years, indicating that progress toward gender parity in the corporate world has been slow.

One factor that contributes to the low representation of women in the C-suite is the so-called “pipeline problem.” This refers to the fact that there are fewer women than men in entry-level positions that can lead to executive roles, due to various systemic and cultural barriers that limit women’s advancement opportunities. Additionally, gender biases and discrimination can also contribute to the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions.

It is important to track these numbers because there is real evidence that increased percentage of women in any governing body, including boardrooms, can have a significant impact. 

While we have achieved this critical mass of “broad influence” in many government bodies, we are still far behind in the private sector. The growing number of women in public office is a positive trend that represents a step toward greater gender equality and the recognition of women’s leadership abilities, but we still have a long way to go to increasing that influence across all sectors and in every state.

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