Six years ago while on a trip to Disney World, I took my daughter and her friend – both in elementary school at the time - to visit The Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom. After we finished touring the exhibit, my daughter looked up at me quizzically: “Why are there no women in the exhibit?” Her friend quickly responded, “Because women aren’t allowed to be the boss.”
The sad reality of young girls feeling an inability to reach the top is reflective of a culture that sees more men running businesses and winning elections. This is the same culture that has allowed sexual harassment to thrive in both business and in politics. Every day we hear new and deeply upsetting reports from women in Hollywood to the halls of Congress that detail a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the hands of colleagues and supervisors.
Studies have shown that harassment in the workplace is far worse in industries that are male dominated. There is no single solution to the harassment plaguing every aspect of our society, but ensuring equality at the highest levels is a step toward correcting this injustice.
The good news is that women are already leading in the fight against workplace harassment in Congress. Just recently, the U.S. House passed a bipartisan resolution championed by two Congresswomen, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), that mandates anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for Members of Congress and their staff during each session of Congress. This is a small but much-needed step in the right direction to prevent abhorrent workplace discrimination in Congress from continuing.
There is still much more that must be done, however, to ensure more women are empowered to make these changes. When looking at the data showcasing female leadership in the boardroom, the numbers are staggering. Only 32 - or 6.4 percent - of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. The numbers in Congress are better but not by much. Less than 20% of current Members of Congress are female - 21 women in the U.S. Senate and 84 women in the U.S. House of Representatives. The situation is even more acute for Republicans: GOP Congressmen outnumber GOP Congresswomen by an 11 to 1 ratio, and the problem isn’t getting better.
If we want to reverse the growing trend of inequality in Congress, we need to elect more women and encourage the next generation of female leaders to run for office. For more young girls to feel like they can reach the top, we need Members of Congress that are reflective of the population they represent.
Data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union shows that the United States ranks behind 100 other countries in women’s political representation. Across the country, organizations like IGNITE, She Should Run and the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University are committed to involving more women in the political process at all levels. I agree with these groups that if want to fix the issues plaguing our society, we must do a better job of kindling a passion for policy from an early age and empowering women with the tools to succeed in a traditionally-male dominated field.
That’s why I started the Women2Women Conversations Tour in 2014. We’re connecting women from all walks of life to the women in Congress who are working to make a difference in Washington. By hearing directly from local business owners, working moms and students who strive to some day run for office, we are building a network that promotes, encourages and supports female leaders.
Over the past year, a record number of women have expressed interest in running for office, but barriers undoubtedly remain. In order for more young girls to believe they can truly “be the boss,” it’s up to us to show them a real path to the top. By electing, elevating and supporting more women in all aspects of leadership, together we can begin to break down these barriers.
Sarah Chamberlain is the President and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership and the founder of the Women2Women Conversations Tour.