The quality of leadership in four of the most powerful nations in the world matters. Not only do the USA, China, Russia, and India govern almost half of the world’s 7.7 billion citizens, but their economic power and global influence shape growth and increasingly human development in many of the world’s nations. And with a new set of ambitious global goals to achieve, including ending poverty, reducing inequality, child deaths and malnutrition by 2030, 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 2019 Motherhood+Public Power Index can only be described as deeply disturbing. At this point in time, just 39 of the 640 most powerful positions in the USA, China, Russia, and India are held by leaders who are also mothers. That’s a rate of 6%. Just six out of every 100 of the most powerful jobs across these nations are currently held by women with children. In contrast, 87% are held by fathers and 7% are held by men and women without children.
Mothers do slightly better in the USA, holding 18 of the top 160 jobs (11%), compared to mothers in India, who hold just nine of the 160 most powerful positions (6%). Mothers in China and Russia fare the worst, holding a paltry six of the top 160 jobs (4%) in each country. This is in stark contrast to the proportion of these top 640 leaders who are also fathers – more than 80% in the USA, Russia, and India, and 90% in China.
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 American universities led by women who are also mothers, and to the stronger representation of women in the USA, Russian, and Indian governments, relative to other sectors. In contrast, the business and philanthropic sectors record the lowest representation of mothers, with only seven among the top 160 CEOs and six on the list of top 160 billionaires across the USA, China, Russia, and India.
The conclusion could not be clearer – mothers are dramatically underrepresented in the halls of power in the USA, China, Russia and India, while fathers are dramatically overrepresented. In short, having children is a barrier to public power and influence for only one gender.
If the USA, China, Russia, and India had the same proportion of mothers leading their most powerful institutions as they do in the population (40%), we would expect to see 46 more mothers in the top jobs in the USA, 55 more in India, and 58 more in Russia and China.
Since the Motherhood+Public Power Index was launched in 2015, there has been no progress in the proportion of women with children among the most powerful leaders. In fact, the rate in the USA has fallen from 14% in 2015 to 11% in 2019. The even lower rates across China, Russia, and India speak to the steep barriers to leadership women with children still face in the most powerful countries in the world.
What can be done to accelerate the proportion of women who are also mothers into four out of every 10 leadership positions?
First, we need mothers in the USA, China, Russia, and India to celebrate and support the mothers already in powerful positions (see the list of the 39 most powerful mothers in the USA, China, Russia, and India below). We should all know their names.
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 across government, business, academia, and civil society. 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 USA, China, Russia, and India increase the proportion of mothers in the top power positions. We need countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Egypt, Ethiopia, Viet Nam, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkey, and Thailand 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, and especially women with children. In the 21st century we need the very best leaders at the helms of our most powerful institutions and nations – people who truly reflect the diversity of skills, talents, experiences, and values in our populations.