Have you ever wondered how many of our most powerful leaders are also mothers?
If the answer is no, don't feel bad because you are not alone. When I asked myself that question about two years ago I immediately googled it to see what kind of information was out there. There was nothing. Looking back, I'm not surprised by that. The world has been having a very intense and important conversation about the number of women relative to men in leadership roles, but have we been missing something?
I created the Motherhood+Public Power Index (through JustActions.org) to find out. I wanted to build a tool that measured, over time and across countries, just how many of the top jobs in government, business, academia and civil society are actually held by women who are also mothers. I was also curious about the proportion of top jobs held by fathers and those held by leaders without children, especially women without children.
The 2016 results are even more shocking than I expected them to be.
Here's what I learned:
1. Mothers don't hold the top jobs in the U.S.
In the United States, just 1 out of every 10 of the most powerful leaders are women with children. In stark contrast, 8 out of every 10 top jobs are held by fathers. Put another way, 16 of the top 160 jobs are held by mothers but 131 are held by fathers. The remaining 13 are held by leaders without children, of which 5 are women.
2. This is a global issue
Is this just a U.S. problem? No. I also took a look at the other global superpower, China, and discovered the situation was even worse. Mothers hold just 4% of the most powerful positions in China but fathers hold a massive 90% of the top jobs. Leaders without children are extremely rare in China.
3. Mother CEOs are lacking
Interestingly, of the four sectors measured by the Motherhood+Public Power Index, universities and governments perform best in promoting mothers into the top jobs. There are 8 mothers running the top 40 universities and 5 mothers in the most powerful government roles. In contrast, the business and philanthropic sectors record the lowest representation of mothers. There are only 2 mothers among the top 40 CEOs and only 1 mother among the top 40 American philanthropists. Appalling.
The conclusion could not be clearer. Mothers are dramatically underrepresented in the halls of power in the United States, while fathers are dramatically overrepresented.
Why does it matter?
1. Quality of leadership matters
The U.S. needs its very best talent at the helm to tackle a raft of economic and social challenges, not just at home but also in the rest of world especially now that we have an ambitious new set of Global Goals to achieve by 2030, including ending poverty, the epidemic of HIV and gender inequality, among others.
2. Mothers can transform the workplace
But there is another reason, which is much more personal to the 70 million U.S. women who are currently in the labor force and the millions more who want to be getting paid for their work. With more mothers in power shaping government, company, and university policies we can accelerate the transformation of our workplaces that is so desperately needed to trigger the next wave of productivity gains.
Greater workplace flexibility will not only broaden the talent pool by attracting more women into the workforce but it will also blur the barriers between work and home unleashing efficiencies that will enable all of us to be more productive. With more mothers in power, expect to see the next wave of innovations—from artificial intelligence to driverless cars to virtual reality—transforming our homes, workplaces, schools and cities so that all of us can move more seamlessly between work, home and school and lead more fulfilling and productive lives.
What can we do?
We need to demand of our employers and our governments the “deep flexibility" that Anne-Marie Slaughter, Claudia Goldin and Heather Boushey outline so powerfully. It begins with paid parental leave and then moves further into paid caring leave throughout the lifecycle for all workers who need to take time to care for a family member, for whatever reason.
It requires a blending of “work," “home" and "school" that technology now makes entirely possible and a revolution in the way we think about the “ideal worker."
Integrated workplaces, schools and homes and a new conception of what an effective worker is are what will ultimately enable women with children to continue to rise to the top of their workplaces and sit in the seats of power.
The Motherhood+Public Power Index is in support of the UN Global Goals and the UN Secretary-General's Every Woman, Every Child movement. The Index uses the latest source data from the US Senate and Congress, the Whitehouse, the National Governors Association, the Forbes Global 2000, Forbes America's Top Colleges, Forbes America's 50 Top Givers.