Thursday, May 31, 2007
Several important events at Yale this year give hope that leadership does not discriminate by gender. Last fall a group of Yale students founded the Women’s Leadership Initiative, which brought successful women such as Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and Margaret Marshall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, to campus to encourage young women to pursue leadership opportunities. In December Yale sophomore and New Haven native Rachel Plattus declared her candidacy for a spot on the New Haven Board of Aldermen. And just before students left town for the summer, Yalies elected Rebecca Taber the first female student government president in five years.
But this trend has yet to catch on at most other campuses. A Feminist Majority Foundation survey of over 150 colleges and universities found that only one in four schools had a female student government president. Some might respond that student government is lame, so the gender disparity doesn’t really matter. But many leaders in government started out as student leaders. Michelle Bachelet, for example, the first female president of Chile, was her school’s student government president. Women make up only one-sixth of Congress, and just 13 of America’s 100 largest cities have female mayors. If women aren’t fairly represented in student government today, will they be represented in City Hall or in the Capitol tomorrow?
Last Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Martha Burk, Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, spoke about the role of women in politics and the influence they will have in the 2008 election. Most know Burk from her campaign to get Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, to admit women as members. But she’s contributed more to feminism and the progressive movement than just picketing against a guy named “Hootie.” She calls herself a “political psychologist” after a lifetime of working on behalf of women in the United States and worldwide. Most recently, Burk helped a group of women reach a $46 million settlement with Morgan Stanley in their sex discrimination suit. Her new book is Cult of Power: Sex Discrimination in Corporate America and What Can Be Done About It.