Critical Mass: What Happens When Women Start to Rule the World – led by Jay Newton-Small

Sophie Bierly

Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics

Critical Mass: What Happens When Women Start to Rule the World – led by Jay Newton-Small

Time: Thursday from February 19- April 16, 4:00-5:30pm

Location: FDR, HKS

In sociology, political science and economics studies abound on when the presence of women begins to have an impact. Almost across the board, if there’s less than 20% representation outcomes don’t change. Either the women don’t speak up or the men don’t hear them. But somewhere between 20% and 30% and something called critical mass is attained and suddenly women’s voices are heard. Whether it’s on a Navy ship, in the Senate or on a corporate board, groups function better with diversity. Mixed workforces that have reached critical mass have shown a host of positive outcomes: police shoot and engage in violence less, companies have to restate their earnings less and banks take less risk. Women make up 46% of the workforce, but more than two-thirds of those on minimum wage are women. But, increasingly, women are breaking into management level roles, especially in government jobs. The public sector has leapt frogged ahead of the private sector in recent years and all three branches of the government are approaching critical mass at the same time. In this study group, I’ll examine how women govern, manage, command and lead differently than men and what it means for our future workforce.

Week One:

The House: In 2006, Nancy Pelosi was elected the first female speaker of the House, the highest ranking woman ever in US politics. Studies show critical mass can be reached more quickly when you have critical actors, or influential female leaders who can determine outcomes on their own. Pelosi is one such critical player. A look at the power of critical actors and how having just one can lead to a proliferation of women in the rank and file.

Week Two:

The Senate: A quarter century after the Year of the Women, the women of the Senate finally began to assert some power. In the 113th session the 20 women sat atop half the committees, passed 70% of the legislation and ended a government shutdown. In a world where hyper-partisanship hampered most of their male colleagues, it often took a woman to get anything done.

Guest: Senator Kay Hagan

Week Three:

Military/Intelligence/Police: We think of the military, intelligence and law enforcement as some of the most masculine workplaces around. But no institution is more keenly aware of maintaining the right male-to-female ratio than the Navy. Since integrating female sailors on its ships more than 20 years ago, the Navy has done countless studies on what is the right number of women on a ship. One didn’t work, neither did a handful. But somewhere north of 17% and the ship not only balanced out, but worked better than all male ships. The CIA is surprisingly one of the best balanced agencies, in terms of sex: nearly half its workforce, 46%, are women. The DNI and the National Geospatial Agency—the satellite geeks—also are more than 30% female. The intelligence community has lead the government in terms of flexible schedules and work/life balance. Even local law enforcement studies have found that having a critical mass of women on police forces—especially as beat cops—tends to lower the number of violent, police involved incidents. And in the wake of Ferguson, who wouldn’t want that?

Week Four:

East Wing/West Wing: Before Hillary Clinton’s East Wing invasion in the 1990s, few women had served in the West Wing. Now women make up nearly 30% of the West Wing and Cabinet. They band together to help one another stay in the loop when men try and cut them out, and to lobby the president when they feel strongly about an issue. A look at the powerful sisterhood in one of the ultimate boys’ clubs.

Guest: Karen Finney, former Hillary Clinton spokeswoman, MSNBC contributor

Week Five:
The Courts: For years Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has argued that there needed to be more women in the nation’s courts. Now that there are more women, not only on the Supreme Court but on federal courts, the difference is already being felt. Justice is supposedly blind, but an increase from 25% to 34% in women on the federal courts have led to more cases of bias being heard as studies show that female justices tend to empathize better with those being discriminated against. A look at how women are changing the courts.
Guest: Margaret Talev, White House Correspondent for Bloomberg News

Week Six: Lehman Sisters

Guest: Terrell McSweeny, Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission

Lehman Sisters: Would the global financial crisis have happened if Wall Street was run by women? Probably not. Studies show women are more risk averse than men. And to ensure that something like this won’t happen again, it took a gaggle of female regulators—the SEC’s Mary Jo White, FDIC’s Sheila Bair, TARP Oversight panel’s Elizabeth Warren and, more recently, the Fed’s Janet Yellin—to haul Wall Street back, kicking and screaming, from the brink of crisis. Studies show that companies that have women on their boards are 50% less like to have to restate earnings. And yet, the number of women on corporate boards has stagnated for the last decade at 17%. A look at why the public sector has succeeded where the private sector has not.
Week 7:  Executive Office

Executive office remains the hardest glass ceiling for women to breach. Not only has a woman never been a nominee for president for either major U.S. political party, but only six governors are women and just 12% of mayors. Female candidates must prove they are tough enough to command armed forces or law enforcement—a question rarely asked of male candidates—while also not being labeled the b-word. So how do women overcome this? Increasingly, they run as women: unafraid to sometimes show a little emotion and playing up their empathy and consensus building skills. With every candidacy, win or lose, voters are being trained to judge women candidates on their own merits, not just on how they measure up to the male ideal. We will look at how we can accelerate this change and what will it mean for policy in our states and at the national level.

Week Eight: Parity

At least four state legislatures and seven countries have reached or are approaching parity. Europe has mandated quotas for women on corporate boards. Great Britain and Australia have developed government organs to work with the private sector to increase female representation—programs that have proven highly successful. More than two dozen countries have elected female leaders. But does the same critical mass hold true for men infiltrating traditionally female professions like teaching? This class will look at the lessons learned and what parity might look like for everyone.

***All study groups are off-the-record and not for media coverage***