Motherhood+Public Power in America


How many of the most powerful jobs in the US are held by women with children? When JustActions first asked this question four years ago there was no data and very little discussion of the issue. We launched the first Motherhood+Public Power Index to change the conversation. It revealed that just 14% of the top jobs in the US were held by mothers in 2015.

Fast forward to 2019 and the good news is that more people are starting to talk about mothers and public power. Rebecca Traister published “Mom vs Dad on the Road to 2020” in New York Magazine, and Liza Mundy published “Women of Substance” in the New Republic earlier this year. We hope to see many more articles like this.

But the bad news is the numbers aren’t changing. The 2019 Index shows that just 18 (11%) of the 160 most powerful jobs in the US are held by women with children. This is in stark contrast to the number of positions that are held by fathers – 133 or 83%.

Of the four sectors measured by the Motherhood+Public Power Index, universities and governments do best in promoting women with children into the top US jobs. Seven (18%) of the top 40 universities are led by mothers and six (15%) of the most powerful government jobs are held by mothers. However, the business sector and billionaires recorded the lowest representation of mothers. Just 2 (5%) of the top 40 CEOs and 3 (8%) of the richest 40 billionaires are also mothers.

Fathers do much better. Men with children hold 83% of the top government jobs, run 85% of the most powerful companies, and lead 78% of the highest ranked universities in the US. 88% of the richest billionaires are men with children.

The conclusion could not be clearer – mothers are dramatically underrepresented in the halls of power in the US, while fathers are overrepresented. Having children is very clearly a barrier to public power and influence for only one gender.

If the US had the same proportion of mothers leading the most powerful institutions as we do in the population (40%), we would expect to see 46 more mothers in the top 160 jobs. But since the Index was launched in 2015, there has been no progress with mothers in the top jobs. Instead, the rate has fallen from 14% to 11%.

Why does this matter?

There are two big reasons to care about the lack of mothers among our most powerful leaders. First, the quality of leadership in one of the most influential nations in the world matters. The US needs its very best talent at the helm to tackle a raft of economic and social challenges, not just at home, but also in the rest of world, especially now that we have an ambitious new set of Sustainable Development Goals to achieve by 2030, including ending poverty, early death, and gender inequality, and preventing a climate crisis, among others.

But there is another reason, which is much more personal to the tens of millions of women who are currently in the labor force and the many more who want to be getting paid for their work. With more mothers in power shaping government, company, and university policies we can accelerate the transformation of our workplaces that is so desperately needed to trigger the next wave of productivity gains and reductions in inequality.

Greater workplace flexibility will not only broaden the talent pool by attracting more women into the workforce but it will also blur the barriers between work and home unleashing efficiencies that will enable all of us to be more productive. With more mothers in power, expect to see the next wave of innovations – from artificial intelligence to driverless cars to virtual reality – transforming our homes, workplaces, schools, and cities so that all of us can move more seamlessly between work, home, and school and lead more fulfilling and productive lives.

With record numbers of women with children running for office in the 2020 US federal election, and five mothers running for President (!), we look forward to a robust conversation about the lack of women with children in leadership roles. When women with children are fully represented among federally elected officials, we will have 174 mothers in the House of Representatives and 40 Senators.

We hope that the Motherhood+Public Power Index contributes to changing the conversation and ultimately to driving progress, and we encourage you to share the results using #MomPowerIndex.

The 18 most powerful mothers in the United States


1. Joni Ernst, Vice Chair, Senate Republican Conference, US Senate
2. Patty Murray, Assistant Democratic Leader, US Senate
3. Elizabeth Warren, Vice Chair, Senate Democratic Conference, US Senate
4. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker, US House of Representatives
5. Liz Cheney, Chair, Republican Conference, US House of Representatives
6. Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan


7. Safra Catz, Co-CEO, Oracle
8. Gail Boudreaux, CE0, Anthem


9. Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania
10. Carol Christ, Chancellor, University California, Berkeley
11. Martha Pollack, President, Cornell University
12. Rebecca Blank, Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
13. Christina Paxson, President, Brown University
14. Carol Folt, President, University of Southern California
15. Joan Gabel, President, University Minnesota


16. Jacqueline Mars
17. Laurene Powell Jobs
18. Abigail Johnson

The Motherhood+Public Power Index is in support of the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, and the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman, Every Child movement.

The Index uses the latest source data from official US government websites, the Forbes Global 2000, the World University Rankings 2019, and Forbes Billionaires 2019.

Please help ignite a conversation about motherhood and public power by sharing the Index using #MomPowerIndex.