Category Archives: Shatter The Glass Ceiling

This is What Happens When a Woman Writer Asks for Money

This article was originally published by Quartz on June 7, 2017.

Over the past few years, I’ve written a number of commentaries and op-eds related to the work I do in my day job, as a public opinion researcher. Unlike many freelance writers, I don’t rely on the income I earn from publishing my work. In fact, when I first started writing for media outlets, I was pleasantly surprised the first time a publication offered to pay me.

Over time, I learned that although less experienced writers sometimes take a few non-paying assignments to build up their portfolio, compensation for writing is the industry ideal. I say ideal rather than norm because despite the many editors and publishers with integrity who recognize that labor should be compensated for in dollars, not exposure, there are more than a handful who don’t follow this norm. They consider including the link to an author’s Twitter page at the end of her article reasonable payment.

Usually, when I submit a piece or pitch to an editor, I ask about pay, but I have also granted outlets permission to publish my pieces for free. The few times I have, the editors—usually of small newspapers or blogs—explained, with kindness and humility, that they could not pay freelancers, and that they completely understood if I wanted to take my work elsewhere. Because I could afford to, I chose to donate my work, to reach new readers.

When I submitted an opinion piece to an editor at a small local newspaper in Connecticut, I didn’t expect payment. After the editor accepted my piece and said nothing about money, I inquired if the newspaper pays for op-eds. I asked this out of principle—because I believe that people should be compensated for labor, and because I believe women in particular should ask for what they’re worth.

The editor wrote back saying that they do not pay writers. “Frankly,” he added, “because of the mention of money, I will not run it now. Thanks for your interest.”

Shock doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction to his e-mail. The shock quickly turned into anger when I realized that this editor had essentially retaliated against me for asking if I would be paid for my work. I sent an e-mail back that said:

“Writers are well within their rights to ask if a company using their work will pay them for it. Frankly, to discourage me from asking and penalizing me for it is not only unprofessional, it is unethical.”

I published the screenshots of this conversation on Twitter and received an outpouring of support from writers and editors all over the world who recognized the blatant injustice of what happened. I also sent a longer response back to the editor as well as the newspaper’s leadership, in which I argued that the editor’s behavior is symptomatic of larger problems plaguing in the media industry—the issue of fair compensation and transparency.

“This incident is a microcosm of broader issues that plague the writing and journalism communities,” I wrote. “While some outlets genuinely cannot afford to pay writers, they still recognize the dignity of writers’ labors, and treat them accordingly and respectfully. Professional news organizations and editors who value integrity will be transparent and upfront about their payment policy. Certainly, they will not pull an article when a writer simply asks if an outlet pays for pieces.”

What happened made me think about broader attitudes toward women writers and equal pay issues. Women workers everywhere (not just writers) are blamed for the pay gap because they don’t ask for money as often as men do. Women are told to “lean in,” to chase that raise or promotion before their male colleague snatches it with his masculine confidence and entitlement. Some women do not follow this advice for fear that speaking up would make them seem too aggressive or unlikeable. My experience would suggest they are, devastatingly, correct. And even though I didn’t actually ask for money (I asked if I would be compensated), the worst thing that could possibly happen in this scenario did happen—I was punished for speaking up. I did not want this point to be lost on the paper, and included this in my e-mail:

“Women in the workplace have a hard enough time as it is asking for what they deserve, and your editor’s reply is a perfect example of why that is. It sends the message that if you ask for what you’re worth, you won’t get it, and in fact you may be punished for asking in the first place. So don’t ask, stay silent. Is that the message the [newspaper] wants to send to women? Imagine if I was a 22-year-old just starting her career and received [the editor’s] reply? I would be terrified to ever pitch an article again!”

A few days after I sent this e-mail, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief tweeted at me to call her. I did, and we had a polite but somewhat vapid conversation about what happened and what the newspaper plans to do in response. She began the conversation by telling me “no one had any bad intent.” Somewhat bewildered by both her vagueness and implication that the incident was a misunderstanding, I respectfully but firmly explained that the incident was not about intent, but the events that took place: The editor pulled my article because I asked about money. Later that evening, I wrote her an e-mail elaborating:

“And I’m not sure if I made clear over the phone, but I strongly believe the editor should be held accountable for his behavior, whether that means he is fired, suspended, or penalized in some other way. It seemed like you may believe he just ‘said the wrong thing’ and didn’t intend harm—I want to make it clear to you that it was what he DID that was wrong, which was to pull my piece because I inquired about payment.”

I also suggested that, in the spirit of transparency, she might consider adding a payment policy to the newspaper’s website that explains freelance contributors are welcome to submit work but won’t be paid for it. (At the time of publication of this article, no such policy has been posted.)

I may not have been able to impact this newspaper, but publicly talking about my experience seems to have comforted other writers. My original Twitter post including screenshots of the e-mails received more than 300,000 impressions and was retweeted over 1,000 times.

This strong reaction isn’t surprising, as writers know the injustices and indignities associated with asking for what they deserve all too well. And women understand their impossible position: “you have to be assertive, yet not too confident, yet apologize for breathing,” as one Twitter user said in reply to my post.

The responsibility to compensate people who perform labor should fall on the institutions profiting off of said labor. Publications should include policies about writer compensation on their websites with standard rates of pay, and editors should bring up money first.

Some companies have already implemented such policies, because research shows that compensation transparency reduces inequities among women and people of color. These policies need to be more than ideals in the writing and journalism industry—they should be standard operational procedure that unequivocally demonstrates respect for the dignity of writers’ work.

Girls of the Month: Old Saybrook Seniors Spark Conversation About Immigration

For the past few months, I’ve been volunteering with She’s Speaking, a local organization in Connecticut whose mission is “to educate, empower, support and inspire young women to have a voice in our society through the resources of powerful women leaders of yesterday and today.”

One of their new programs is to honor girls and young women who are making a difference in their communities and who are doing bold, brave things. I was privileged to interview 11 young ladies who were honored for their work on immigration. Read about their amazing work and accomplishments below, and check out the original article here.

She’s Speaking is thrilled to recognize eleven seniors at Old Saybrook High School who have been speaking out in their community about a controversial topic: immigration. After reading a book in their Spanish class, the group of all female students were stunned by how much they learned about immigration and immigrants themselves—and much of this new knowledge contradicted some of their prior assumptions.

“Many people come over when they’re young—as girls and boys—and they’re coming to find their mothers who left when they were really young. A lot of people think immigrants come here just to work but they also come to be with their family,” Arianna Heonis explained.

“Some immigrants are brought over as young children and they aren’t even aware that they’re not citizens until they try to apply for college,” Delilah Hallowell added.

Lucy Marinelli explained that contrary to the stereotype of an immigrant as a law-breaking criminal, she was surprised to learn that the crime rate among immigrants is significantly lower compared to American citizens. “We focused on debunking myths about immigrants,” she said.

Armed with and inspired by this new knowledge, the girls conducted additional research and consulted with experts to develop a comprehensive, facts-driven presentation about immigration in America. They considered having the author of the book that inspired their work come in to talk with other students, but decided to speak out about the issue themselves. As Holly Coppes explained, “We realized we could connect more with the school ourselves, as peers.”

The purpose of their presentation was to share facts about immigration with the community to dispel myths and misinformation. As Marinelli explained, “Immigration is a controversial issue that can be so emotional because of the political connotations. But we really wanted to make this presentation nonpolitical and stick to the facts so people could form their own opinions. We wanted to educate the community.”

And educate they did. The group not only presented to their entire high school, but also shared their work with the Board of Education, the Valley Shore Collaborative, and the Shore’s Women League. Once they started speaking out about immigration they didn’t want to stop. Although some girls admitted to having trouble with public speaking in the past, they were able to overcome that fear and felt motivated to keep speaking. As Jillian Hirst recalled, “We were all on this high after the first presentation when everyone is clapping and being supportive. That positive reaction inspired us to do it again! We presented it a few more times and were so happy to see more groups of people who were really moved by what we had to say.”

The girls also reported that since their presentation, their schoolmates seem more comfortable talking about immigration, and some students they had no idea were immigrants came to them for support. “One girl in our school was an immigrant who couldn’t get a social security number and she was about to apply to college. She was really struggling, and she was brave enough to share that with us,” Rory Dunne recounted.

“We made it a more comfortable space for people to talk,” Alexis Parker added.

Although this group of girls learned much about the immigration issue, the biggest lesson they learned was about the importance of speaking out about topics you believe in, even when it’s not easy to do. As Marinelli explained, “You learn the best in uncomfortable situations.” Maggie Smith added: “You should take every opportunity you get to step outside of your comfort zone because you can grow so much.”

**
She’s Speaking congratulates this group of senior girls for their accomplishment and for their courage to speak out in their community and share their knowledge with others.

Thank you to Patty Marshall, Amy Claffey, and the Old Saybrook High School for making this article possible.

Full list of students involved in the immigration project/presentation:
Holly Coppes
Rory Dunne
Delilah Hallowell
Arianna Heonis
Jillian Hirst
Lucy Marinelli
Alexis Parker
Mia Reed
Maggie Smith
Erin Stangel
Heather Uphold

Small business owners in CT overwhelmingly support Paid Family Leave

This morning, my research company, BLS Research & Consulting, released the data from a poll we conducted among small business owners in Connecticut. Conducted on behalf of the CT Campaign for Paid Family Leave, the survey results showed that more than 3 in 4 small business owners SUPPORT the paid family leave legislation currently being considered in the Connecticut Assembly.

Highlights:

-95% of CT SBOs believe it is important for people to have time off to care for a new baby, a seriously ill family member, or recover from a personal illness, and 69% feel it is very important.

-More than 3 in 4 CT SBOs support paid family and medical leave legislation, and nearly half (46%) feel that way strongly. Support holds across the state and among different industries.

-79% of Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) members polled favor establishing PFML.

-Once SBOs learn more about paid family leave, including how research has demonstrated its benefits for businesses, support climbs to 82%.

When asked WHY they support paid leave, small business owners pointed out that such policies make good business sense, because they improve employee retention, job satisfaction, and productivity. They also believe having paid leave available is the right thing to do, because no one should have to choose between their family and a paycheck:

“I think it’s been extremely important to allow employees the opportunities to spend time with their family during these periods when it’s so urgent to be available. It’s great to come up with some ideas to not further burden already struggling small businesses and allowing needs to be met in this way. Great to see out of the box strategies.” –Medical/Healthcare Industry SBO, Middlesex County

“I support it because it’s important for employees to balance work and life. And as long as its employee funded I’m willing to sacrifice not having them at work during those 12 weeks.” –Professional Services Industry SBO, New Haven County

“We need to be considerate of human needs in this world. Work and money can wait.” –Real Estate Industry SBO, Hartford County

“Because I understand the need for paid medical leave for employees, but as a small business owner it puts a great burden on such a business. This sounds like a good solution that is mutually beneficial to all parties.” –Manufacturing Industry SBO, Litchfield County

“Sometimes, family members get sick and need care. Family is very important and businesses should respect that. A happy employee is a productive employee.” –Educational Industry SBO, Fairfield County

The data is clear: paid leave supports working families, improves worker retention and builds a competitive economy.

About the poll:

On behalf of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, BLS Research & Consulting conducted an online survey of 243 small business owners (2-250 employees) in Connecticut. About 82% of business owners surveyed employ less than 25 people.

The survey was fielded May 17th – May 23rd, 2017. The margin of error is +/- 6%.

Respondents were recruited via online panels and from commercial lists of small businesses in Connecticut. The sample includes a broad mix of small business owners from several industries—from manufacturing and construction to educational services and the medical/healthcare industry. Woman- and minority-owned small businesses are also represented.

For more information about this poll, contact me.

For more information on the campaign, visit their website.

What Really Happens When Women Writers Ask For More Money

This article was originally published by The Establishment, May 23, 2017.

Recently, I had a story accepted by the editor of a city paper. Since he hadn’t mentioned pay, I asked whether the publication compensates their contributors. He replied that no, they did not.

Then he said this: “Frankly, because of the mention of money, I will now not run [your article].”
And just like that, my piece was pulled.

We can’t prove, of course, that this editor wouldn’t have treated a male writer the same abusive way, but we can make an educated guess based on existing research that interactions like the one I experienced happen more often when the power dynamic is editor=male, writer=female. In an industry where men serve as gatekeepers, and women are routinely pigeonholed and devalued, it’s hard not to see my experience as emblematic of broader issues.
It’s hard not to surmise that it’s time for the publishing industry to confront some hard truths.

Like many women who work outside the home, I’ve experienced the trifecta of workplace discrimination throughout my career: unequal pay, sexual harassment, and sexist treatment. I recently made a conscious move to freelance work as a researcher and writer, mostly for the flexibility self-employment offers, but also in part to escape the sexist environments that dominate many workplaces. This choice is not unusual; one recent study found that the majority of full-time freelancers, 53%, are women—many of whom make this choice for the same reasons I did.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to learn that the freelance industry is no safe haven from discrimination.

One study from 2005 revealed a 42% pay gap between full-time male and female independent contractors, and a 35% gap between part-time independent contractors. More recent studies reveal things might be changing, though comprehensive research remains limited; a study from 2014 revealed that female freelancers were securing the majority of the gigs on the platform People Per Hour (58%), while earning up to 22% more per hour than their male counterparts. As for freelance writing specifically, that’s also been woefully understudied, but one Writer’s Union of Canada report revealed that female writers earned only 55% of what their male counterparts did.

As in other industries, some say that if women aren’t making as much as men, it must be their own fault — they have to be more assertive in asking for higher pay. In the world of freelance writing, where negotiating pay is a constant, the pressure to “lean in” and demand more is particularly pronounced.

While I’ve always known that putting the onus on women to ensure that they get paid fairly is hogwash, my recent experience with the city paper editor reminded me why this strategy is not only ineffective, but harmful. As writer Cheryl Strayed once put it, it’s not that there’s “a secret commission of readers and editors dedicated to the mission of keeping women writers down,” but “we live in a patriarchy, which means that everything we observe, desire, and consume is in some essential way informed by gender assumptions that privilege men.” As my own anecdote illustrates, women may be punished for asking for more, or for even any compensation at all.

There’s also the issue of what the industry does and doesn’t value, and how gender stereotyping plays into these judgements. Male writers are often favored for subject matters deemed “serious” (like crime, politics, and news), while women are often pigeonholed into writing about what’s been described as “pink topics” or the “four f’s”: fashion, family, food, and furniture. Women, and particularly mothers, are also often recruited to produce low-quality clickbait for content-farming mills, earning anywhere from $2 (yes, $2) to $25 per article.

As in many other industries, problems with inequity start at the top.

While women tend to dominate lower-ranking positions in publishing, it’s men who often occupy the top positions of power. Women represent just 35% of newspaper supervisors, for instance, and serve as top editors in just three of the nation’s 25 largest papers, eight of the 25 largest papers with circulations under 100,000, and three of the top 25 under 50,000. (The situation is even more dire for people of color; in one study, just 15% of participating organizations said at least one of their top three editors is a person of color.)

And — no surprise here — evidence indicates that the people making decisions about whose stories are worth publishing may favor stories about people like them. Studies in various industries have shown that men tend to favor hiring men (and women tend to favor hiring other women).

Solutions to these deeply ingrained problems are in some ways elusive — but there are some concrete changes the publishing industry can make to rid itself of gender inequality. Concerning compensation, studies have shown that transparent pay policies are effective in remedying pay inequities among women and people of color. All publications should include standard pay rates on their website or in their contributor guidelines. Transparent pay policies will benefit all writers and would go a long way in making fair pay a more easily realized norm in the publishing industry.

Publishers can also work to ensure more women and people of color can become decision-makers and occupy the top positions in the industry — although, it’s worth noting, women in positions of power is not a panacea. After the newspaper editor pulled my article, I forwarded the e-mail exchange to the editor-in-chief of the paper, a woman. She and I subsequently had a phone conversation in which I urged her to establish transparent pay policies and hold the editor (and all her staff) accountable for abusive behavior toward freelancers. She listened to my suggestions politely, but when I followed up with her for this article and asked if she had implemented any of my suggestions, all I got was silence. As of this writing, the paper’s website has not been updated with compensation policies of any sort.

So making more women editors-in-chiefs will not necessarily solve the problem of sexism in the publishing industry if those women do not value fairness and equality or are not willing or able to implement policies that reflect those values.

The problem at the root of all of this is that, like many industries, the publishing industry is composed of institutions that were built on capitalistic, patriarchal values that serve the dominant group (namely, white men) and exclude everyone else (women, people of color). Changing these institutions involves a reimagining of values and goals. We need to build an industry that recognizes the dignity and importance of writers’ work and understands that writing is not just a job, but a form of art through which ideas can spread that have the power to transform society. The stories we tell about the world are profoundly shaped by our experience of it, and allowing more men than women to tell their truth distorts reality and limits the range of ideas that make it into the public’s consciousness. Publishers who practice these values are currently few and far between, but they do exist and we should support these publications as much as possible.

Finally, we need to stop telling women that it is their responsibility to ensure they get treated fairly. No marginalized group ever got their fair share of anything by asking the group in power if they would please stop oppressing them. And as my story reveals, telling women to fight for themselves does not always work, and in fact can come with its own negative consequences. Sexism and unequal compensation (in the writing industry and elsewhere) are not individual problems that individual women can solve themselves by just saying the right things or bringing the right attitude to pay negotiations — they are collective problems that require collective action.

The part of my story that hurts me the most is remembering how I initially felt when I received the editor’s email pulling my piece. For about five seconds after reading it, I regretted asking about money. In those five seconds, I felt a desperate need to apologize for asking, in an effort to hopefully save my article. In those five seconds, the patriarchy came crashing down on me in full force and I was powerless to its ability to make me feel ashamed for speaking up.

Very quickly my regret turned to anger and indignation once I regained the rational consciousness in which I understood how unfairly I was being treated, but those five seconds will never go away, and thinking about that short period of time incites rage and despair. It’s in those momentary periods of self-doubt that a little part of us dies, and our defenses and willingness to fight the system that tells women and other marginalized groups to stand down are weakened. For those five seconds, the patriarchy won.

That’s how deeply ingrained these gendered commandments are — they become our automatic responses, even when we consciously reject such prescriptions.

Legislators should approve paid family leave bill in CT

This article was originally published by the CT Mirror on May 17, 2017.

This past January, Connecticut lawmakers introduced two paid family and medical leave bills: Senate Bill No. 1 and House Bill No. 6212: An Act Concerning Earned Family and Medical Leave. The legislation passed through the Labor Committee successfully in March, but since then supporters of paid family leave have anxiously awaited further action from the Assembly.

With less than a month to go before Connecticut legislators adjourn for the summer, Connecticut citizens need to demand that our representatives take action on these bills and pass paid family and medical leave in Connecticut.

If passed, the legislation would require employers to provide 12 weeks of paid leave (100 percent of weekly earnings, up to a $1,000 cap) to new parents or those who need to care for a sick relative or recover from a personal illness. The system would be funded through employee contributions (less than a half percent of weekly earnings), thereby eliminating the financial burden on small business owners.

In fact, since workers without access to paid leave often have to leave their jobs altogether, paid family leave benefits employers and business owners because it reduces turnover and increases retention. Paid family leave can keep Connecticut competitive by attracting workers and young professionals looking to live in states with progressive policies that allow families to work and care for each other at the same time.

Paid family leave lessens burdens on taxpayers by decreasing reliance on public assistance and social services. A study conducted by Rutgers University found that new mothers who return to their jobs after taking paid leave are about 40 percent less likely to receive public assistance compared to women who do not have access to paid leave.

In addition to the economic benefits of a paid family leave program, this legislation will bring Connecticut into the 21st century by updating our policies to reflect the realities of working families today. Gone are the days when men brought home the bacon for women to fry up in the kitchen —these days, more than three in five families are considered dual earner households, meaning both women and men are working outside the home. While in the past, women who stayed home could function as caregivers to new babies and sick relatives, our families have changed and our policies need to sprint to catch up.

A common misperception about this legislation is that it is a “women’s issue,” but to the contrary, paid family leave is a family issue, a Connecticut issue, and an American issue. Paid family leave will strengthen families by ensuring children get a good start in life and that the adults can do what they need to do concerning their family without risking their financial security. Strong families make strong states and strong states make strong countries.

Passing paid family leave would ensure no one has to choose between a paycheck and being there for their family. Senate Bill No. 1 and House Bill No. 6212 represent the kind of smart, common sense solutions this state needs to grow into a competitive, economically stable state where families can thrive because they know they are valued.

I used to think that I had to be a ‘mean boss’ to be respected — but changing my approach got better results

This article was originally published by Business Insider, May 18, 2017.

Recently I was settling into my seat on a flight when a woman stomped onto the plane and barreled down the aisle while talking loudly on her ear piece. She was dressed in professional clothing as though she just got out of a meeting, and was visibly flustered trying to talk into her Blackberry while trying to find overhead space for her bag.

Her seat happened to be right across from mine so I couldn’t help but overhear her conversation. I could tell she was in talking to one of her employees because she was reviewing his (I heard the name ‘Jeff’) work and telling him what to change.

I cringed at her conversation and the tone she took with Jeff: condescending, impatient, and downright rude. She made disparaging remarks about his work, remarking she was surprised he graduated from an Ivy League school given the quality of his work. She offered suggestions to improve his work, but in a way that must have made poor Jeff feel like he was the most incompetent person on the planet. She may have been right to reprimand Jeff for poor performance, but her delivery was disrespectful.

As much as I disapprove of this woman’s behavior, I can also relate because I’ve been her before. I’ve been the no-nonsense, take-no-crap from anyone boss who doesn’t hesitate to yell at a subordinate or use a harsh tone in the hopes that a scolding will be the motivator he or she needs to do better next time.

But what I learned over time, and what my neighbor on that flight will likely learn too, is that being the mean boss won’t get you anywhere. That being condescending, sarcastic, disrespectful, or rude might feel good in the moment when you’re angry, but is a guaranteed way to lose the trust of your team.

My flight neighbor probably believes her team respects her for being so tough, but they don’t. You cannot respect someone who has no control over their own emotions, who doesn’t understand that moving forward and up is always better than laying down in the mud.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my flight neighbor was a woman, and her gender certainly colors the interaction she had with her colleague. Women in leadership positions often feel they need to overcompensate and defy the perception that women aren’t tough enough for the job. And to some extent, women do have to be assertive to be taken seriously, but crossing over into abusive behavior is something both women and men need to guard against.

These were hard lessons for me to learn. The first time I managed a team, I adopted a “hard ass” persona, quick to chastise or criticize the team working under me for anything I perceived as less than a perfect performance. One person I worked with at the time described me as “quite prickly” to work with, though I think that was actually a euphemism for being a total jerk to my teammates. I didn’t like being a mean boss, but I felt I had to assert my authority and show how hard and harsh I could be to command respect. But the thing is, yelling at my teammates didn’t improve their quality of work or inspire them to work harder. It made them resent me and broke down the essential ingredients of trust and mutual respect that a team needs to succeed. If anything, being a jerk at work only made my team’s work suffer.

As difficult as it is to recount these cringe-worthy experiences, I am ultimately a better leader and colleague because of them. I learned that being an effective leader is about uplifting your team, not stomping all over them. My approach to solving workplace issues became all about finding the solution, rather than reprimanding or punishing without a plan to move forward. This didn’t mean I let employees slack or let them off the hook, but it did mean that instead of getting angry and firing off rude, condescending e-mails, I approached problems at work in a new way. I started demonstrating more patience and respect and showed that my number one goal was always to move forward and up—to find solutions, implement them, and focus on producing the best possible work, together as a team. Now, when I talk to my colleagues about their performance issues and work with them to find solutions to the problem, they know I’m on their side and that I want them to succeed. Showing them I’m interested in communicating with them to solve the problem, not just demand they work to my standards, motivates my team to do better next time.

Interpersonal communication is a critical skill for any professional to have and will lead to more productive, inspired teams.

We Need to Change our Voting Systems to Elect More Women to Political Office

For many people interested in gender equality, the election of Hillary Clinton to the U.S. presidency would have been a significant achievement in the movement to secure more power for women. A female president would have represented a historic signal of equality, and the U.S. would no longer hold the ignominious reputation of never having elected a female head of state, a marker of progress 63 out of 142 nations in the world have already surpassed.

But as we all know, Clinton lost the presidency and the chances of the U.S. electing a woman president in the near future remain uncertain. However, it’s critical to realize that even if Clinton had won, the U.S. would still be extraordinarily behind other countries when it comes to gender parity in politics. In the U.S. House of Representatives, women hold only 19% of seats, and in the Senate, only 20 out of 100 Senators are women. In fact, the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks the U.S. as 104th in the world when it comes to the proportion of women serving in government, ranking right behind Bulgaria and Madagascar.

The dearth of women in politics is a problem for a plethora of reasons, not the least of which is what it says about how well our country actually reflects core American values of equality, fairness, and opportunity for all. But the low number of women in politics also has practical ramifications in policy outcomes. A whole literature of research indicates that women officeholders behave differently from their male colleagues: they are more likely to introduce and advocate for legislation that advances the interests of women and families, and they are also more likely to work collaboratively and build consensus, making them more effective as legislators. Electing more women to office will produce better outcomes for American families, outcomes that will be accomplished with dignity to boot.

Although a lot of people agree that we need more women in politics, there are far fewer people doing the kind of work that is essential to getting them there. Some organizations hold trainings for potential women candidates and work to encourage more women to run for office. These organizations are guided by the belief that women need more encouragement and support than men to take the initial step to run for office, and research backs this assumption up—several studies find that women are less politically ambitious than men and are less likely to believe they are qualified to run for office. Therefore, it is not voter sexism or discrimination that keeps women out of politics, it is women’s own reluctance to run in the first place, these organizations say (and research confirms).

But while working to close the political ambition gap between men and women is critically important work, on its own it is insufficient to achieve gender parity in politics. The reasons for this lie in the fabrics that make up American political institutions. Simply put, women do not have enough real opportunities to run for office and win. In elections for the House of Representatives, over 95% of incumbents get re-elected, limiting the opportunity for anyone who is not a white man to gain power.

Because of extraordinarily high incumbent re-election rates, women and other non-traditional candidates have the best chance of picking up seats in open contests, when there is no incumbent competing. But in 2016, out of 435 elections in the House, only 45 were for open seats. This is the primary reason why the percentage of women officeholders has stagnated–there are too few chances for women to run and win. In fact, without changing the voting institutions that guarantee the incumbency advantage, gender parity will remain an elusive dream.

Women in other industrialized nations are not inherently more ambitious or confident than American women; they live in countries with political institutions that open up more opportunities for nontraditional candidates to emerge and hold power. Studies of women’s representation in other countries have shown that different electoral systems—like proportional representation—are much more favorable to the election of women. That is why of the top 20 countries for women’s representation, 19 of them have election systems based on proportional representation. 

In the U.S., candidates in congressional elections run in single-member, winner-take-all districts, meaning only the winner—the candidate who gets the most votes—gets elected. But some state legislatures use multi-member districts, which means more than one candidate can win a seat. In many districts, one party dominates elections again and again, leaving voters who support the opposing party completely unrepresented. In multi-member districts, members get elected according to their party’s vote share—for example, if one district has four seats, and 50% of the vote is for the Democrats and 50% for Republicans, two Democrats get elected and two Republicans get seats too. This scenario also allows for the emergence of third-party candidates, who actually have a shot at picking up seats as well.

Multi-member districts create more opportunities for non-incumbents and non-traditional candidates to run for office and win election. Ten states in America currently use multi-member districts in at least one legislative chamber, and these states rank among the highest for women’s representation among state legislatures. Multi-member districts help to reduce the advantages incumbents enjoy, thereby creating more opportunities not only for women, but for people of color and third-party candidates.

So if we want to get serious about addressing the embarrassingly low number of women in politics, as well as the low number of other non-traditional candidates (people of color, third-party candidates), we to change the institutions we use to elect our leaders. We may also find that doing so not only opens more opportunities for new candidates to emerge, but that voters themselves benefit from increased choice and new ideas. Many voters complained that the 2016 presidential contest presented them with two inadequate choices for candidates: 63%–nearly two-thirds of American voters–said they were dissatisfied with their choices. Oftentimes, this feeling of having no real choice produces voter apathy and disengagement, threatening the health of American democracy. Using voting reforms to open the door for different types of candidates might also help engage voters by giving them more and better choices.

Hillary Clinton’s Survival of Sexism

This blog was originally published in The Huffington Post. The full article with citations can be found here.

At the end of the last presidential debate, Donald Trump was asked to name something about his opponent that he respects. He answered that Hillary “doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up…She’s a fighter.” This was a rare moment of truth coming from a candidate who literally lies a majority of the time. To me, Hillary is a hero for the valiant fight she’s shown in this race, but for withstanding nearly 40 years of the sexism, misogyny, and discrimination that befall women who seek power and challenge traditional notions of gender. Our country may finally see a woman president not because we as a people have evolved in our thinking about gender roles or because of progressive policy measures that allow women to combine work with caregiving, but rather because of the sheer tenacity of Hillary Clinton herself.

Hillary’s ability and willingness to remain in spaces that are uncomfortable, even hostile toward women, is admirable, though rare to witness (and I mean this both literally—like when Trump loomed over her at the most recent debate—and symbolically, when talking about the space of politics in general). No women has made it to the space Hillary Clinton occupies today, and there are various reasons for women’s lack of ascendancy to the top—in both politics and in the workplace generally. The effects of child-rearing responsibilities have been well-documented as serious barriers to female advancement to the top ranks in companies and in politics. But there may also be more subtle, yet more insidious reasons for women’s under-representation in top positions that have to do with the everyday sexism we experience in the workplace.

Few of us have endured the level of misogyny Hillary Clinton has, but many of us have experienced the micro-aggressions, the small instances of bias, the tiny pinches, scratches, and sometimes cuts that can eventually lead to the deaths of so many promising careers.

This happens everyday at work—when you get cut off or interrupted in a meeting. When your junior male colleague takes credit for your idea. When you look in the conference room and realize every participant sitting at the table is a white man. When your boss expects you to get cupcakes for your co-worker’s birthday. When you find out the man who held the exact position before you made a higher salary. When a client, colleague, or co-worker makes lewd comments that make your skin crawl but you can’t do a damn thing about it—not because laws don’t exist on the books but because sometimes that’s all they are—words on paper that fail to take into account the enormous, oftentimes impossible risks women take in speaking up about sexual harassment.

When women (who are privileged enough to have the choice) leave their jobs—either to opt out of the workforce altogether or to take another position elsewhere—sexism is rarely cited as the reason for the switch. More commonly, women will leave a job to find a company that’s a “better fit,” and some will start their own businesses so they “don’t have to work for anyone.” Some will attempt to find a job that can better accommodate their lives and responsibilities of caregiving. Oftentimes, these career switches are out of male-dominated fields. And then there are some women who leave the workforce altogether to work full-time inside the home. When these career changes are made, the reasons publicly stated may vary, but I would bet a lot that privately, many women are simply exhausted from enduring those little pricks of sexism and misogyny on a daily basis. It may not be a primary reason for leaving (or even a conscious one), but it may certainly contribute to driving women out of certain fields and careers.

And so, the status quo remains: the glass ceiling remains in tact, and patriarchy stays alive and well (though maybe it has the sniffles as of late). And our country and our economy suffer as well, as companies, industries, and fields lose a huge pool of talent.

I have been heartened to see so many men challenge Donald Trump’s sexism in this campaign, especially his blatant defense of rape culture. But this challenging needs to happen more widely—in every office, laboratory, Assembly floor, and school. Trump’s repeated attempt to excuse his support of sexual assault as “locker room talk” speaks volumes about his—and many men’s—absolute refusal to admit their own sexism. To be clear—he is not an aberration but rather a manifestation of the white male privilege that infects our society and drives women away and out of male-dominated spaces.

One way to really make some men angry is to call out their sexism. I have seen many men go to great lengths to justify their actions, defend each other, and deny responsibility. Just a small example—I recently sat next to a man on a plane who “man-spreaded” his legs right into my seat, essentially taking over half my space. I discreetly captured a picture of the man-spreading which I posted on social media with the hashtag #everydaysexism. I couldn’t believe the vitriol I got in response—men I hadn’t spoken to or even thought about in years came out of the woodwork to tell me (or more accurately, mansplain to me) that the man sitting next to me simply had long legs (actually, he was pretty short) and that what he was doing was not sexism. Others questioned why I didn’t just ask him to move, an ask which is symbolic of a broader problem of placing the burden of stopping sexism on women rather than the people who perpetrate it.

There’s nothing ostensibly damaging inherent to the practice of man-spreading, but it is an example of one of those tiny pricks that have devastating cumulative effects on women. Calling out these instances of sexist behavior is exhausting, because the response is often one of defensive, even hostile posturing. Yet staying silent feels pretty bad too. And often times, when you do speak up, you’re the only one doing so, and that can get lonely.

I can only imagine just how lonely and exhausting being Hillary Clinton is. When she accepted the Democratic nomination back in July, I balled my eyes out when she took the stage. My husband asked me if my tears were tears of joy for the first woman presidential nominee. I told him no, that my tears were for Hillary Clinton herself, tears of solidarity, of relief that she was able to survive the years of tiny and not so tiny cuts to get to where she is today. She truly is extraordinary in her ability to persevere.

This campaign has exposed some of the worst social diseases that linger in our country. Sexism is one of those diseases, and while women have always known it’s existed because we live it everyday, seeing Hillary endure it is like pulling off a bandaid and being forced to actually look at the injury. To me, it feels like a very old wound that women have collectively borne is wide open and exposed, but the question is how we do we heal it properly? Hillary Clinton is our hero of survival, but we cannot rely on lone women to single-handedly dismantle the patriarchy. Healing this wound involves a collective effort from all Americans, as well as progressive policy measures that value women, their work, and the realities of their lives.

4 Ways Hillary Clinton Will Make Life Better For Moms

According to a recent survey of registered voters conducted by ABC News/Washington Post, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump among women by 23 points—58% of women voters say they support Hillary, 35% say they would vote for Trump. While gender gaps in elections are nothing new, the Clinton/Trump contest represents a much wider margin than usual. Some would say these polling numbers are no surprise—after months of insulting, deriding, and offending women all over America, it makes sense that American women would punish Trump harshly at the ballot box.

But what also may be contributing to the gender gap is not only women’s distaste for Trump, but their affinity for Hillary. Hillary has talked a lot about women in this election, as well as issues that affect moms, like paid family leave. Rather than focus on why women should hate Trump, let’s talk about the ways Hillary will help women, and specifically, moms. After all, it feels much better to vote for a candidate than against one.
My book, 52 Reasons To Vote For Hillary, is full of plenty of positive reasons to support Hillary (and many of them I didn’t even know until I started the research for the book!). Some of my favorite reasons are the plans Hillary has to help make life better for moms in America—so here are four of them:

1. She Gets Work/Life Balance (Chapter 6)

According to the Make It Work campaign, nearly 90% of American workers do not have any paid family leave, and more than 43 million Americans don’t have a single paid sick day — over half of whom are working mothers.

Hillary wants to change that, and has a plan to guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. Her plan would also provide up to 12 weeks of leave for employees to recover from their own medical conditions or serious injuries. Hillary’s plans are important not only for the huge financial benefits that women would accrue, but because they send the message that as Americans, we value parenthood, caregiving, and the people who do it.

2. She Will Make Childcare A Priority (Chapter 8)

The cost of childcare in America is outrageous. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost of care for one child exceeds the cost of university in-state tuition in half of U.S. states. In some states where the cost of living is high, families are spending more than $15,000 a year on childcare for just one child. These are financial hardships that many American families simply cannot afford, and as a result, moms drop out of the labor force or scale back more often than dads, leading to a losses in earnings that affects the entire family unit.

Hillary has a bold and ambitious plan to make childcare more affordable for American families. She would cap what families pay for childcare at 10% of their paycheck, a big deal considering half of all American families spend more than that currently. Hillary will also increase access to on-campus childcare for parent students, so that they can further their education while also meeting their parental responsibilities. Hillary’s childcare agenda will go a long way in easing the financial burden on American families and ensuring women can live up to their full economic potential.

3. She Will Fight For Equal Pay (Chapter 17)

On average, women in America get paid 79 cents to a man’s dollar. But the burden is even heavier for moms, who make 73 cents for every man’s dollar, costing women around half a million dollars in earnings over their lifetimes.

Hillary believes that equal pay is not only a woman’s issue, but a family issue and an American issue. She has outlined a plan that would give women the tools they need to fight workplace discrimination and promote pay transparency across our economy so that women have the information they need to negotiate fairly. The cornerstone of her plan, the Paycheck Fairness Act, holds employers accountable by requiring them to prove that wage discrepancies are tied to legitimate business qualifications and not gender, and by prohibiting companies from taking retaliatory action against employees who raise concerns about gender-based wage discrimination.

When Donald Trump and other Republicans accused Hillary of playing the “gender card” because of her focus on equal pay, Hillary had this to say to her detractors:

“If talking about equal pay and paid leave and more opportunities for women and girls is playing the gender card, then deal me in!”


4. She Will Protect Women’s Reproductive Health (Chapter 39)

As all moms know, giving life is among the greatest of life’s joys, but becoming a mother is also a major, life-changing responsibility. Families do better when they have the resources to plan and make their own decisions with the counsel of their doctors. That’s why Hillary has always been an ardent supporter of women’s reproductive rights, including access to contraceptives and safe abortions.

As President, Hillary will defend the Affordable Care Act’s provision that prevents insurance companies from discriminating against covering women because of their reproductive health care needs. She has also promised to nominate Supreme Court justices who will uphold Roe v. Wade and protect women’s access to reproductive healthcare.

To Hillary, when women are healthy, America will be healthy, and it is critical to ensure women have the opportunities and access they need to build healthy and productive futures for themselves and their families. As with other issues that affect women, Hillary has argued that reproductive rights are not only women’s issues, but affect the entire country in important ways:

For too long, issues like these have been dismissed by many as ‘women’s issues’ – as though that somehow makes them less worthy, secondary. Well, yes, these are women’s issues. They’re also family issues. They’re economic issues. They’re justice issues. They’re fundamental to our country and our future.

While Donald Trump and other Republicans continue to subscribe to dated notions of family structures and gender roles, Hillary understands that changing times call for updated policies that move our country forward. Gone are the days of dads bringing home the bacon while moms fry it up in the pan — the world has changed, and our rules need to sprint to catch up. Hillary’s plans will make life better for moms, and in turn, for American families.

Read more about Hillary’s plans to help American families get ahead in 52 Reasons To Vote For Hillary, on sale now.

5 Facts About Mother Candidates, After Hillary Clinton’s Historic Nomination

This article was originally published in Romper, July 2016. See original article for links to sources.

Hillary Clinton’s candidacy so far has been historic. Clinton has spent her life knocking down barriers to get to where she is today, and people of all political persuasions can agree that her trailblazing is an inspiration to women and girls the world over. Not only is Hillary Clinton the first woman candidate to top a major-party ticket, she’s also the first mother (and grandmother!) to get this close to becoming the leader of the free world.

Being a woman, mother, and grandmother matter because these identities (and the experiences and knowledge that comes with them) set Clinton apart, particularly from her opponent, Donald Trump. For one, Clinton’s visibility may have an important role model effect on other women and young girls: seeing a woman, mother, and grandmother occupy the highest position of power in the United States can encourage more women to seek office themselves, according to Political Research Quarterly. Secondly, mothers may have a unique viewpoint that they’ve developed through living the trials and tribulations associated with raising children. Electing mothers who get and understand what American families need to thrive may have profound, positive public policy effects — in fact, research conducted by Dr. Michele Swers in the book The Difference Women Make finds evidence that women policymakers are more likely than men to introduce, sponsor, and advocate for issues that disproportionately affect women, like paid family leave and childcare subsidies.

But while our country might be better off with more women and mothers in office, there are several barriers to electing more of them. I have a PhD in political science and work in the public opinion industry where I’ve been studying mothers in politics for nearly a decade. I can say with certainty that Clinton’s success is, unfortunately, very much the exception rather than the rule. Women face a host of obstacles in the climb to the top — both in business and in politics — but throwing children into the mix dramatically heighten barriers to women’s advancement, according to a 2012 report by Jennifer L. Lawless on The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics.

Because mother politicians are still so rare in America, there is very little knowledge about them and what — if anything — makes them different. I’ve culled together the little research available (and much of it is research I have personally conducted) to present to five things to know about mother candidates:

When Moms Run, They Campaign Differently Than Dads

When women with young children break through the initial barriers and run for office, they tend to campaign differently than their male counterparts. While fathers showcase their children on the campaign trail, women tend to minimize their role as mothers. With my colleague Dr. Mona Kleinberg, I conducted a study of candidates in competitive congressional races — “A Mom First and a Candidate Second: Gender Differences in Candidates’ Self-Presentation of Family” — and found that men were more likely than women candidates to feature pictures of their children on their campaign websites. Despite high-profile mother candidates like Sarah Palin, who attempted to use her parental status as a credential, women are still more likely to campaign by themselves rather than with their families.

For higher levels of office, including executive roles, women may minimize their roles as mothers to assuage voter fears that young children would be a distraction or take the politician away from her duties as a representative. This is a stereotype men rarely — if ever — have to confront.

Overall, Mothers Are Less Politically Ambitious

According to the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics, a total of 46 women serve the 114 U.S. Senate. In a 2015 report also completed by Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics, 84 of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives were women, and they represented 31 states. And research about mother candidates — particularly those with young children — is scant because so few mothers actually run for office. Women tend to enter politics when they’re older, after their children are grown, when childcare responsibilities lessen, according to research by Susan J. Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu titled “Gender and the Decision to Run for the State Legislature.” In an examination of the freshmen members of the 113 Congress, the Center for American Women and Politics found that while half of the male freshmen in Congress had young children at home, only one woman did.

The Center for American Women and Politics also conducted a national survey of state legislators — a position that’s often a stepping stone for Congress — and found that 23 percent of male legislators had children under 18 compared to just 14 percent of women, a statistically significant difference. In the same survey, a 57 percent of women state legislators said the age of their children was a very important consideration in their decision to run for office — only about two in five men said the same.

Mothers, then, tend to weigh family considerations more heavily than fathers (likely because they shoulder more responsibility for childcare).

Voters May Penalize Moms Of Young Children…

voters. A study I conducted in 2010 titled “Voting For Mom: The Political Consequences of Being A Parent for Male and Female Candidates” published in Politics & Gender found that voters believe men with young children will have more time to serve in office compared to women with young children — an assumption that hinges on the reality that despite women’s advances in the workplace, they are still doing just as much, if not more, work at home. In fact, a recent national survey I conducted with my colleagues at Whitman Insight Strategies found that 55 percent of partnered women say they are responsible for caring for loved ones, including children and elderly relatives, while only 39 percent of partnered men say the same.

Especially striking is the finding that this pattern holds across generations — millennial women are just as likely as women from the Greatest Generation to perform these levels of work inside the home, an indication of the durability of gender roles.

The study I conducted in 2010 for Politics & Gender also found that mother candidates are perceived as less viable than father candidates, which may point to an unconscious bias voters bring to their evaluations of mother candidates. Indeed, a survey conducted by Pew Research found that nearly two in five Americans believe the trend of more mothers of young children working outside the home had been bad for society.

But Childless Women Receive The Harshest Penalty

As many barriers as there are for moms in politics, childless women are viewed even more negatively. The study I conducted for Politics & Gender also found that voters are significantly less likely to express support for a childless woman candidate and prefer her to have children who are grown. For men, parental status was far less relevant in voters’ evaluations. Being childless may be considered “deviant” and perpetuate stereotypes of “career women” (read: any woman who seeks power in her own right) as selfish, cold, and out-of-touch.

Having children may make candidates of both genders more relatable to voters who are looking for candidates who “understand” them. However, this puts women candidates in a double bind: having young children can be a liability if voters question her ability to juggle both the demands of child-rearing and the responsibilities of public office, but having no children puts women in the position of having to confront stereotypes related to being childless. Having adult children may be the “ideal” parental status for women, but running for office later in life limits opportunities to gain the necessary experience to run for higher levels of office.

When Moms Win, They’re More Likely To Push Policies That Help Families

Numerous studies have shown that women tend to have different policy priorities than men and are more likely to advocate for policies that help working families, like paid family leave and child care, according to PoliticalParity.org’s research on “Why Women? The Impact of Women in Elected Office.” When Clinton was pregnant with Chelsea, the law firm she worked at didn’t offer a maternity policy, and the partners would barely acknowledge she was even pregnant. In a 2012 interview with CNSNews.com, Hillary Clinton spoke candidly about her pregnancy:

“I was the only female partner, and they’d never had a female partner and certainly not a pregnant female partner. And they literally just were not sure what to do with me. I would walk down the corridor getting more and more pregnant, and the men in the firm would like look away, never say a word.”

And when a partner called Clinton after she gave birth and asked when she was coming back to work, she responded that she needed four months off, creating the first family-leave policy ever at her law firm. In a speech given at the State Department’s 2012 National Work-Life and Family Month, Clinton said,

“And I was in the hospital when one of my partners called to say congratulations, and then in the course of asked, ‘Well, when are you coming back to work?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. Maybe in four months.’ And that’s how I created the firm’s first-ever maternity leave policy.”

Even though Clinton was fortunate enough to get the time off she needed to be with Chelsea, many women get much less time off, if at all — today, a quarter of all women in America have to leave their newborn and return to work within 10 days of giving birth because they have no paid leave. On her website, Clinton credited her experience in shaping her strong support for policies like guaranteeing paid family leave, making childcare more affordable, and raising the minimum wage — all of which are critical policy changes that will strengthen American families and create more opportunities for women to get ahead. As Clinton said:

I think that this is an issue that is not a woman’s issue. It is a human issue and a family issue. After all, there is little doubt that balancing work and family responsibilities is done in one way or another by people everywhere, every day.
This is not to say men or childless women can’t strongly advocate for policies that help American families — they are certainly can and have throughout history. But women who have the lived experience of being a mother and all that it entails may have a better sense of what the government needs to do to help make life easier for working families. Electing more of these women will go a long way toward passing more family-friendly policies that will strengthen the whole country.

Ironically, the policy changes that make it easier for women to combine motherhood and a career is ultimately what will help encourage more mother candidates to run for office. Hillary Clinton’s visibility — as a woman, as a mom, and as a grandmother — may help propel this forward. You can’t be what you can’t see, and seeing a mother occupy the highest political office in the land may do much to break down barriers for women candidates in general.

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