When I was in graduate school in London, one of my professors told a cute story about his daughter, born during the Thatcher era, who as a small child had asked him whether a man could be Prime Minister. The point that my professor was trying to make was that having more women in positions of power does make a difference in how women’s roles are perceived by society at large.
One need only look to the Declaration of Sentiments adopted by the women in attendance at the Seneca Falls Convention in August 1848 to begin to appreciate how far women in the United States still are from reaching equality in a host of arenas, many of which are dependent on political or legal equality. Although women were granted the franchise in 1920 after decades of struggle, it is only in the past few decades that women have become a political force – at least at the ballot box. Women not only vote more than men, but unmarried women and women of color are much more likely to vote for Democratic candidates. In fact, women were key voters in the successful elections of Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Women will not have achieved political equality until critical societal changes have taken place. First, women’s successes in being elected and appointed to political positions, corporate and non-profit executive leadership roles, as well as significant public and private boards must no longer be an anomaly to demonstrate equality has been accomplished. When we reach this point, there will no longer be a need for organizations like The White House Project to inspire women to run for public office. Nor will there be a need for other leadership programs designed to provide women with the skills and networks necessary to pursue various executive level positions and to provide the staying power to succeed once they are in these roles.