The Data on Women Leaders
Most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, yet women still make up a small share of top leadership jobs. Our full report explores Americans’ views about women leaders, the barriers they face and prospects for the future. Below, we’ve charted the share of women in top U.S. political and business roles over time and set the scale at 50% to show the halfway mark.
There are 20 women serving in the U.S. Senate, an historic high that has held steady for the last two Congresses. Of the 20 women, 14 are Democrats and 6 are Republicans. The first woman in the Senate was Rebecca Felton (D-Ga.), who was appointed to the seat as a political maneuver in 1922 and served just one day. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), who served in the Senate from 1978 to 1997, was the first female senator who was not initially elected to fill an unexpired Congressional term.
A record 84 women are serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 114th Congress, comprising 19% of House members. Of these, 62 are Democrats and 22 are Republicans. In addition to the 84 House members, four women serve as non-voting delegates to Congress, representing Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam. Jeannette Rankin (R-Mont.) was the first woman to be elected to Congress, in 1917. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the only woman to have served as speaker of the House. She served as speaker from 2007 to 2011 and is now the minority leader.
Currently, women make up 22.1% of state senate seats and 24.9% of state house or assembly seats. In 2014, 10 women served as the top leadership post in state senates, and six women were speakers of state houses. The first women to serve in a state legislature were three Republicans elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1894. Today, Colorado is the state with the highest share of female state legislators, at 42%. Louisiana has the lowest share, at 12.5%.
The share of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies topped 5% for the first time in 2014, with 26 women heading major firms. General Motors, headed by Mary Barra, is the largest U.S. company with a female chief executive. Barra is the first female leader of an automaker in the world. The late Katherine Graham, of The Washington Post Co., was the first female CEO to make the Fortune 500 list, in 1972. Twenty years ago, there were no female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list.
The share of women sitting on corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies has increased from 9.6% in 1995 to 16.9% in 2013. One-in-ten Fortune 500 companies have no women sitting on their board, and less than two-in-ten had a board comprised of at least 25% women.
In 2011, 26.4% of university presidents were women, almost triple the share in 1986. Frances Elizabeth Willard became the first female college president in 1871, heading the Evanston College for Ladies in Illinois, which later merged with Northwestern University. In 1975, Lorene L. Rogers was the first woman to lead a major research university (University of Texas) and Judith Rodin became the first permanent female president of an Ivy League institution in 1994 (University of Pennsylvania).
To date, 36 women have served as governor in 27 states. In 2015, two Democratic and three Republican women are serving as governors: Mary Fallin (R-Okla.), Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Susana Martinez (R-N.M.) and Gina Raimondo (D-R.I.). Nellie Tayloe Ross, a Democrat of Wyoming, was the first female governor, elected in a special election in 1925 to succeed her deceased husband. Ella Grasso, a Democrat of Connecticut, was the first female governor elected in her own right.
The share of women serving in cabinet-level positions peaked during President Bill Clinton’s second term at 41%. It now stands at 35%. The first woman in a cabinet-level position was Frances Perkins, appointed as secretary of labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. To date, seven women have served as labor secretary, more than in any other cabinet position.