A new Washington Post series, “Leadership Reimagined,” features contributions from “students and fellows across the country.” Unfortunately, the first contributor, Helen E. Pollock, winner of a Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, hasn’t done much in the way of reimagining. Pollock writes:
Women have made significant gains in the public sector. However, they still comprise only 16 percent of Congress, and they hold only 23 percent of the seats in state legislatures. In Coro Southern California’s home city of Los Angeles, only one woman sits on the 15-person city council. And next year, there may not be any.
Women may not yet have achieved parity in government, but there are successful, ambitious, dedicated, fascinating women in the sector who can set a powerful example for those of us who are only beginning our careers. We need to know that there is a place for us in the public sector, and a good mentor can help prove it.
Helen, gender parity isn’t a problem for women when more than half of the college undergraduates in the U.S. are women.
Thinking in terms of gender parity is about as clichéd as it gets. It assumes that somehow having Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House was good for women, even though her big government policies hampered economic recovery.
In a 2008 piece urging that it’s time to “forget about gender parity,” the IWF actually did some reimagining on this issue:
[T]here is no reason to expect men and women to be equally represented in elected office. Research indicates women are less interested in the process of running for and holding office, and they have other preferences for how to use their time and talents.
Those fixated on achieving "gender parity" – whether it's in the halls of Congress, university science departments or in day care centers – want to discount men's and women's stated interests and preferences, which frequently diverge. But we should not assume that individuals are routinely mistaken about what careers give them fulfillment.
Ms. Pollock’s piece is headlined “Women in Government, Help a Sister.” Although I can fault Helen for making young women entering government sound unduly needy, I agree that mentoring younger women is a worthy thing to do. (So, by the way, is mentoring young men.)
But something made me think that the best mentoring for Ms. Pollock might be taking her down a peg or two. Here is how she introduces her piece:
As one of this year’s Coro Fellows in Public Affairs, I have unparalleled access to the public arena for someone my age: I participate in exclusive conversations about public policy, observe meetings behind closed doors and interview some of Southern California’s most influential people. And one of the things I’ve learned as I am invited into Los Angeles boardrooms? There are often no other women sitting at the table.
First of all, I am wondering if Ms. Pollock needs glasses. Where is she finding all these womanless board rooms?
But mostly it’s her sense of privilege that shines through. I’m not sure bragging about “unprecedented access” or participating in “exclusive conversations about public policy” is really that attractive in somebody just starting out on a career path.
As your female mentor, Ms. Pollard, I am urging you to dial down your sense of entitlement a notch or two.