The Motherhood + Public Power Index 2015

The world’s first measure of the % of mothers among our most powerful leaders

Do you know how many of our most powerful politicians, CEOs, college presidents, and religious leaders are also mothers? Do you know how many are fathers? Neither did we, but we had a sneaking suspicion that where motherhood is a penalty when it comes to public power and influence, fatherhood is a bonus. So to find out the truth, JustActions created the first measure of motherhood and public power, the Motherhood+Public Power Index, and the results are shocking.

Of the 160 most powerful public leaders in the USA, just 23, or 14.37%, are women with children. This is in stark contrast to the high number of fathers represented – a total of 122 or 76.2%. Of the four sectors measured by the Motherhood+Public Power Index, colleges perform the strongest with nine of the top 40 colleges run by women who are also mothers – almost double the number of mothers in positions of leadership in government, business, and religious communities. The business sector performed the worst of all sectors measured, with just four mothers among the top 40 CEOs.

Interestingly, within the US government, the Congress and the Cabinet have the highest proportion of mothers in the top seats of power, followed by the Senate, and coming in last – State Governors where there are no mothers among the Governors of the ten largest US States! In contrast, fathers are well represented across all sectors, securing more than three out of every four leadership spots, and more than eight out of every 10 of the most powerful positions in government and business.

By revealing both the absolute and relative lack of mothers in leading positions across government, business, academia, and religious communities in the USA, the Index creates a powerful call to action. When approximately 40% of the USA population are mothers, how can we be satisfied with just 14% representation in the halls of power? And with more than three out of every four of the most powerful positions held by fathers, clearly having children need not act as a barrier to public influence.

If we had the same proportion of mothers leading our most powerful institutions as we do in the adult population, mothers would hold 64 of the top 160 government, business, academic and religious leadership positions in the USA, not 23. Or to put it another way, the Motherhood+Public Power Index reveals that we need at least 11 more mothers in the 40 most powerful roles in government, 12 more running the top 40 companies, seven more running the 40 best colleges, and 11 more among the 40 most influential religious leaders.

The quality of the world’s leadership matters. With 2 billion living in poverty, 1 billion lacking fertility control, 800 million illiterate, 700 million survivors of intimate partner violence, and 16 million dying young – the majority of them women and children – we need world leaders who can drive the next wave of human development gains.We need the many millions of mothers in the USA to celebrate the mothers already in powerful positions (see the list of the 23 most powerful mothers in the USA below) and to push for the changes that would make it easier for more mothers to pursue their professional careers to the levels of highest influence.

With more mothers running companies, governments, universities and religions expect a transformation in the way the world works for parents, and indeed for everyone who needs to balance caring responsibilities with careers. Expect to see more generous family leave provisions, a greater use of technology so people don’t have to travel so far and so much for work. Expect to see jobs offering more flexibility in hours worked with greater syncing of the school and workday schedules. Expect to see more integration across workplaces, child care facilities and schools so employees can move seamlessly among the three during the work day and school year.

And perhaps most revolutionary of all, expect to see a new definition of the “ideal employee” with performance measured in terms of the efficiency with which goals are met rather than hours and face time clocked. A critical mass of mothers in power will create the seismic shift we need to lead more integrated lives, where professional fulfillment does not come at the cost of family and vice versa – to everyone’s benefit.

The most powerful mothers in the USA: know their names

1. Sally Jewell, United States Secretary of the Interior
2. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, United States Representative (Washington, 5th Congressional District)
3. Patty Murray, United States Senator for Washington
4. Nancy Pelosi, United States Representative (California, 12th Congressional District)
5. Penny Pritzker, United States Secretary of Commerce

1. Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors
2. Safra Catz, Co-CEO, Oracle
3. Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo
4. Meg Whitman, CEO, Hewlett-Packard


1. H Kim Bottomly, President, Wellesley College
2. Drew Gilpin Faust, President, Harvard University
3. Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania
4. Catharine Bond Hill, President, Vassar College
5. Michelle Johnson, Superintendent, United States Air Force Academy
6. Christina Paxson, President, Brown University
7. Carol Quillen, President, Davidson College
8. Debora Spar, President, Barnard College
9. Teresa Sullivan, President, University of Virginia

1. Roma Downey, Producer, ”The Bible”, “A.D. The Bible Continues”
2. Mary Ann Glendon, Professor, Harvard Law School
3. Joyce Meyer, Joyce Meyer Ministries
4. Victoria Osteen, Lakewood Church
5. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, Episcopal Church of the United States

The Motherhood+Public Power Index is in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman, Every Child movement. The Index uses source data from the USA Senate and House of Representatives, the White House, the National Governors Association, the Forbes Global 2000, Forbes America’s Top Colleges, and Newsmax’s Top 100 Christian Leaders in America.