Polls on Women in Leadership Roles

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Commentator Betty Baye explains why she's skeptical of a recent poll that indicates a majority of Americans believe the United States would be better off if more women were in positions of leadership. Baye is a columnist with the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.

ED GORDON, host:

ABC television's new show "Commander-in-Chief" is a big hit. The program chronicles the life of the nation's first female president. Commentator Betty Baye believes it's time to make this story a reality. She says women should be given more opportunities to lead.


A majority of Americans, 64 percent--more men than women--said in a recent national telephone poll that the country would be better off if more women were in leadership. That poll was jointly conducted by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and US News & World Report. Forgive me for being just a little bit skeptical. I believe that if that many Americans actually believed that more women ought to be leaders, then more women would be leaders. I mean, there would be more than a handful of women in Congress, heading up media empires and being CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Part of me has the nagging suspicion that perhaps some people, when they're polled, pull their punches. I recall that, thinking about the times whenever white people would come around and my father would get into his habit of speaking very proper. `Well, er, um,' Daddy would say. Now my father was no Tom, far from it. He just never wanted white folks to think of him as some ignorant Negro. Moreover, a lot of black folks of that generation had learned to be very careful about telling white folks how they really felt. Some of that may still hold true, and not just for black people, but also for a lot of other ordinary Americans who may take extra care with their answers when some stranger rings them up and solicits their views on sensitive topics. How do the receivers of such calls know for sure that it's not some trick, that it's not somebody collecting information to use against them?

But let's get back to that poll. I believe that women can and do make great leaders. I've admired many up close and from afar. But honesty compels me to confess that I find it disconcerting that more men than women told pollsters that they believe America would be better off with more women in leadership. Now what's that gap about? Is it because women know that when it comes to leadership, women, just like men, aren't all created equal? Some women leaders that I've observed make it a point to out-men men, fearing, perhaps, that if they don't maintain the male leadership models that they've seen on their way up the ladder that they may not be taken seriously. And, of course, there are women and people of color who relish being the only one of their kind in positions of power or influence. Black folks refer to such persons, usually derisively, as HNICs--that's `head Negroes in charge'--or HWICs in the case of women. Now these people often are insecure and expend a lot of energy blocking others of their kind from moving into leadership. Sometimes they perceive their only competition as being others of their kind.

Before I climb down off this soap box, let me say that I'd love for more women to hold powerful positions, but it's still true, as the great leader Frederick Douglass once said, that power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did; it never will. So until women demand equality of opportunities to lead, the men with power aren't going to just give it up, no matter what the polls say.

GORDON: Betty Baye is a columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.

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