Women in Leadership


Here we look at statistics and trends on women in a variety of leadership roles in politics and corporate settings. This report will also include data on women’s educational attainment, labour force participation and representation in a variety of professional fields.

Women and politics

In politics, Jeannette Rankin of Montana was elected as the first woman to serve in Congress in 1917. Since then, a total of 299 women have entered the field of leadership politics as US representatives or senators. A record 104 women were sworn in as members of the 114th Congress (the House and Senate combined) in 2017. There are 83 women in the House of the 115 Congress (19.1 percent) and 21 female senators (21 percent), an all-time high. Women remain heavily outnumbered in both the House and the Senate.

In the 114th Congress 70 percent of female senators and 74 percent of female representatives were Democrats. 28 of the women in the 114th Congress were Republicans and 76 Democrats, a marked change from the 1990’s when the number of Republican and Democratic women in Congress was similar.

Women also make up a growing share of state-level elected officials in politics. The share of state legislators who are women has risen from 4.5 percent in 1971 to 24.8 percent in 2017. The number of female governors in politics has also increased, although not at a steady rate. Today five women are serving as governors. This is down from a peak of nine in 2007 and 2004.

As of 2017, a total of 36 women (24 Democrats and 15 Republicans) have served as governors. In addition, one woman has served as governor in Puerto Rico.

Corporate Leadership

Top corporate leadership positions in America are growing more slowly. Women currently hold just 29 (5.8 percent) of all corporate CEO positions and 19.9 percent of corporate board seats at Standard and Poor (S&P) 500 companies, based on the January 2017 S&P 500 list. Whilst these figures appear low, they are steadily increasing from a baseline of twenty years ago, when there were no female corporate CEOs of S&P 500 companies.

Women in the Labor Force

Today a majority of American women are in the labor force. In 2016, 56.8 percent of women were in the labor force at a time when the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent. In 1965, the figure was just 39 percent.

Women are increasingly taking jobs in managerial positions. In 2015, over half of managerial and professional occupations (51.5 percent) were held by women, up from 30.6 percent in 1968. Even so, women continue to lag far behind men in senior management or leadership positions. According to a survey of top leaders from mid-market businesses throughout the US only 25.1 percent of senior leadership managers in 2015 were women.

The range of occupations women workers hold has also expanded, with women making significant progress in traditionally male-dominated professional and managerial corporate occupations. In 2016, 34 percent of professionals in the legal field are women compared to fewer than 1 in 10 in 1974, with 20 percent partners in private law firms. Women also make up 24 percent of US federal and 27 percent of state court judges. Women also account for 30 percent of the physician workforce in the country.

Despite these gains, women are still under-represented in corporate STEM industries of science, technology, engineering and math in the US, with the women’s share of computer workers actually declining since 1990. As of 2014, women made up 18.7 percent of employed engineers. Among undergraduates who were enrolled in engineering programs in 2014, 24.1 percent were women.

Over recent years, young women are more likely than young men to graduate from college. Since the 1990’s, women have outnumbered men in both college enrolment and college completion rates, reversing a trend that lasted through the 1960’s and 1970’s. By 2016, 34 percent of women ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 26 percent of men in the same age range. Women are also more likely to continue their education after college, with women earning more than half of bachelor’s degrees (57 percent), master’s degrees (60 percent) and doctorate degrees (52 percent). Women also earned 36 percent of MBAs (Master of Business Administration).

Despite all the progress, a gender wage gap persists. In 2016, the median hourly earnings for female workers 16 and older were 82 percent of men’s earnings. The gap is much smaller among young workers ages 25 to 34 where women in this age group made about 94 percent of what men in this age group made. In the 1980s the figures were 64 and 67 percent respectively.

The unemployment rate for women is currently 4.8 percent, down from a peak of 9.0 percent in November 2010.