Dawns Without Roosters? Making More Women Leaders

The June Issue of the IMF magazine “Finance and Development” features an interesting article by Rohini Pande and Petia Topalova discussing the results of a social experiment in India that exposed women to leadership positions in village politics. The authors note that in an effort to get more women into politics, the Indian government amended its constitution in 1993 to reserve one-third of local leadership positions to women. The amendment, they go on to note, “dramatically raised the number of women among local leaders, from fewer than 5 percent in 1992 to close to 40 percent in 2005.” Twenty-years later, note the authors, one can draw three broad conclusions from the experiment. 1) Female leader changed the perception of voters and raising the perception of female effectiveness in leadership roles; however, this effect was not immediate and required “repeated exposure” 2) Even after seeing effective female leaders, most men continued to prefer male leaders 3) Female leaders had perhaps their most profound impact on teenage girls and their parents’ expectations for them. In other words, seeing women in leadership roles gave parents the assurance that encouraging their daughters to lead was acceptable in society. Expounding on their third finding, the authors note that “this rise in aspirations for girls was accompanied by real-world improvements in educational attainment and time use. Boys began with a slight advantage relative to girls in terms of probability of attending school, ability to read, and grade completed; however, this gap was entirely erased in areas with female leaders for two electoral cycles.” These positive impacts can be seen in one of their graphs, reproduced below:


It’s interesting to juxtapose the findings of this research with the avalanche of articles in the U.S. about the imperiled state of men. If one reads only the US literature, one would be forgiven for thinking that the age of male dominance is over, and that women will sooner or later control economic power in the US. Whether or not that is true, and I believe that it is not, it is interesting to contrast that point of view with the reality in most of the rest of the world, which is quite different. The chart below, also taken from their article, illustrates this point well:


It clearly shows how female representation in political and business leadership roles continues to lag to this day. A lot of people will reply by pointing to prominent national female leaders in the US, Europe, and Latin America and Asia, but the reality is that often these women arrive at power via a male connection (Hillary Clinton, Cristina de Kirchner, Auun San Suu Kyi are all examples of this phenomenon). The Angela Merkel’s of this world are rarer than people imagine, and its impossible to imagine a woman leading China any time soon. Aung San Suu Kyi, the authors note, once quoted the Burmese proverb that “the dawn rises only when the rooster crows” as a good example of the attitudes that needed to change in Burma. It’s a fitting quote, since it illustrates not just bias but ignorance, forces evident in the findings of Panda and Topalova. So, next time you read about how male power is in danger, and that we need to worry about what is going to happen to men in the future, remember that in most of the world’s population centers, women have just begun to release themselves from traditional stereotypes and have to struggle for equal pay and equal power. Indeed, in the most of the world, the roosters still think the dawn waits for them, and not the other way around. Read the full “Finance & Development” article here: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2013/06/pande.htm

Carlos Alvarenga

Founder and CEO at KatalystNet and Adjunct Professor in the Logistics, Business and Public Policy Department at the University of Maryland’s Robert E. Smith School of Business.

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