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Wednesday, Sep 22, 2021

OPINION: Our post-COVID world needs to see more women in positions of power 

This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.

The 2020 election was a historic progression of women’s rights and a victory for American feminists with the election of vice president Kamala Harris. As Harris became the first woman and person of color to occupy the position of the United States Vice President on Jan. 20, the lack of women in political leadership positions both nationally and internationally has become glaringly obvious.

Hillary Clinton’s run for president in 2016 broke barriers for women, and with her securing the popular vote as the Democratic candidate in the race against Republican Donald Trump, the inauguration of a female president to the most powerful position in the country did not seem out of reach.

Even so, Trump won the electoral college vote with 306 votes to Clinton’s 227 votes, eliminating the possibility of a female U.S. president until future elections.

Clinton’s concession speech reflected this disappointment that yet again, a woman was not chosen by the United States to serve in an office that has been entirely male since the country’s founding three centuries ago.

“We have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will,” Clinton said.

The glass ceiling in Clinton’s speech visualizes a barrier to women created by centuries of sexism, stereotypes and gender norms and the status quo in which men always seem to be the first choice. Harris’ victory alongside Joe Biden proved to be another crack in the glass ceiling that Hillary Clinton worked so hard to shatter before her, but there is still a long way to go in terms of equality and representation in American politics.

Countries around the world are strides ahead of the United States, with countries like New Zealand, Finland, Germany and Taiwan appointing women to high positions of power. The benefits they have experienced from doing so are apparent, especially amidst the obstacles that 2020 presented.

In an article for Forbes magazine, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox acknowledges the similarities between countries with coronavirus reactions that proved to be successful in curbing the infection rate within their borders. Many of the countries that were able to see positive results early on in the pandemic had women in some of the most influential positions.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan implemented extensive measures to combat the coronavirus that was wreaking havoc in nearby countries, never needing to impose a lockdown and keeping Taiwan’s coronavirus death toll to just six people. Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Arden put the country in lockdown early and limited the number of travelers entering its borders. Finland’s head of state Sanna Marin — the youngest in the world — used social media rather than the press to inform citizens quickly on how to combat COVID-19. The actions of these female leaders exemplify a certain power that comes in diverse leadership, with the positive impacts of women in positions of power being visible in countries around the world.

Numerous female leaders have been praised this year for their quick acting that saved their nations from fates similar to that of the United States, which is still experiencing high levels of hospitalizations and deaths nearly a year after the pandemic first began.

The success of women in positions of power in combating crisis was examined in a recent study by the Harvard Business Review. In this study, writers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman discuss the idea of “a glass cliff”; which refers to the idea that women are often put in leadership positions to fix the damage her predecessors inflicted — damage that often increases their likelihood of failure.

While the idea that the female leaders of today have been tasked with addressing crises like nothing those before them encountered is easily identifiable in current times, this research also finds that women are more likely to possess traits that are desirable in leaders such as strong communication, concern for the wellbeing of team members and collaboration skills.

None of this is to say that male leaders are incapable of presenting these same traits or of being efficient leaders in the way women can be. However, in a world whose political leaders have been predominantly male, studies like this and the success of female heads of state around the world provide more evidence that the world needs to see an increased rate of women in power.

Harris assumes her position as Vice President in the wake of one of most destructive years in modern times. While she may be expected to pick up the pieces of a broken nation that the previous administration left, my hope is that her time in office will light the way for more women and people of color to come after her. I hope that her new position convinces the people of America and the world that women are the leaders we always needed; that she will break that glass ceiling that Clinton got so close to shattering.


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