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Motherhood and Power in China and America

The quality of leadership in the two most powerful nations in the world matters.

Not only do China and the United States of America govern more than 1.6 billion of the world’s 7 billion citizens, but their economic power influences global growth and, increasingly, human development in many of the world’s nations.

And with a new set of ambitious Global Goals to achieve by 2030, including ending poverty, preventable child deaths and malnutrition, the world will need its very best talent at the helm of governments, businesses, universities and civil society.

In this context, the results of the 2016 Motherhood+Public Power Index can only be described as deeply disturbing.

At this point in time, just 23 of the 320 most powerful positions in both China and the United States are held by leaders who are also mothers.  That’s a rate of 7%.

Mothers do slightly better in the United States, holding 16 of the top 160 jobs (10%), compared to mothers in China, who hold just 7 of the 160 most powerful positions (4%).

This is in stark contrast to the proportion of leaders who are also fathers – more than 90% in China and more than 80% in America.

Of the four sectors measured by the Motherhood+Public Power Index, universities and governments perform best in promoting leaders who are also mothers into the top jobs. This is due to the larger number of leading US universities led by women who are also mothers, and to the small but growing representation of women in US governments.

In contrast, the business and philanthropic sectors record the lowest representation of mothers.  There are only 4 mothers among the top 80 CEOs in China and the US, and only 3 mothers among the top 80 Chinese and American philanthropists.

The conclusion could not be clearer.  Mothers are dramatically underrepresented in the halls of power in China and the United States, while fathers are dramatically overrepresented.

If China and the United States had the same proportion of mothers leading their most powerful institutions as they do in the population (40%), we would expect to see 58 more women who were also mothers in the top 160 jobs in China and another 48 mothers in the equivalent roles in the United States.

The pictures below tell the story…

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Know the Numbers: Snapshot of the Motherhood + Public Power Index 2016

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Know their Names: the 23 most powerful mothers in China and the US

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What can be done?

What can be done to accelerate the proportion of women who are also mothers into 4 out of every 10 leadership positions?

First, we need mothers in China and the United States to celebrate and support the mothers already in powerful positions.

Second, we all need to push for the changes that would make it easier for more mothers to pursue their professional careers to the levels of highest influence.  Primarily this will involve a profound transformation in work norms so that workplaces deliver on the “deep and temporal flexibility” championed so powerfully by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Claudia Goldin and Joan Williams.

Third, we need to build a truly global movement to put more mothers into seats of power.  It’s not enough if the United States and China increase the proportion of mothers in the top power positions. We need countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Ethiopia and Egypt taking on motherhood and public power – measuring it, publicly reporting on it, and ultimately putting in place the policies and programs that will achieve a critical mass of mothers in positions of public influence everywhere.

The world can no longer afford to pay the high price it has been paying for the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions.  We need leaders who reflect the diversity of skills, experiences and values in the populations they lead to successfully tackle the steep challenges now facing the planet.

The Quality of the World’s Leadership Matters

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The Motherhood+Public Power Index is in support of the UN Global Goals and the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman, Every Child movement.  The Index uses the latest source data from the US Senate and Congress, the Whitehouse, the National Governors Association, the Forbes Global 2000, Forbes America’s Top Colleges, Forbes America’s 50 Top Givers and the China Philanthropy Project at Harvard University.  Special thanks to Tracey Cui Fan 崔 凡 (Johnson & Johnson, Worldwide Corporate Contributions) for her assistance with the Chinese research.