There's Very Bad News for America's Most Ambitious Businesswomen

There's Very Bad News for America's Most Ambitious Businesswomen

Statistics show that the U.S. ranks 84th in the world in terms of women's representation in our federal legislature. At this current rate of progress, it will take almost 500 years for women to be equally represented in American government. Yet, according to a recent Pew study, politics may not be the worst field for women in the U.S.

That honor goes to the world of business.

While the study found that women are being increasingly represented in both fields, they've gained more higher-level jobs in politics in recent decades. The number of female state legislators increased 19.7% since 1971, and in 2013 women held 21.6% more management and professional jobs than they did in 1968, according to the research. Yet women currently compose only 5.2% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and the gender wage gap is a problem that's unlikely to resolve anytime soon.

So why are women being held back from advancing in business, but are increasingly successful in politics? Forty percent of Americans think it could be because of a double standard that requires ambitious women in professions to "do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves," according to Pew. Yet, despite this double standard, characteristics traditionally regarded as feminine — such as the ability to compromise, honesty and ethics — are increasingly being valued in politics specifically, giving women in the field a slight advantage. 

Meanwhile, the majority of Americans (53%) believe men will continue to hold more top executive positions in business, but 73% expect to see a female president in their lifetime. 

These results underscore the importance of widespread, cultural representation of women in male-dominated fields. As Marie C. Wilson, founder and former president of the White House Project aptly noted while advocating for media representations of women in politics, "You can't be what you can't see." 

Perhaps increased cultural representations of women in business will encourage future generations of young women to enter the field. Until then, as this Pew study suggests, we still have a lot of work to do.