RELEASE: New CAP Reports Show How Public Policy Can Boost Women’s Leadership

Washington, D.C. — The women’s leadership gap in the United States remains a deeply pervasive problem, due in part to structural impediments that inhibit women’s ability to integrate their work with their family responsibilities, remain in the workforce, and rise. Today, the Center for American Progress released two reports showing the need for the United States to adopt public policies to increase women’s leadership opportunities across all levels of society, analyzing the success of family-friendly policies in other countries and how such policies could benefit the American workforce.

The first report, “Can Public Policy Break the Glass Ceiling? Lessons From Abroad,” examines the outcomes of work-family policies in other countries, including parental leave, child care, and flexible work initiatives. Among its findings, the analysis shows that countries with the smallest wage gaps—Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden—all have universal and affordable child care and early childhood education programs, as well as progressive parental leave systems. Such policies help women enter work, remain in the workforce, and advance to decision-making roles within organizations. The report also looks at the impact of gender quotas on women’s corporate board representation in Norway and finds that, while quotas do bring more women on boards, they do not have trickle-down effects to help other women rise.

The second report, “For Women to Lead, They Have to Stay in the Game: Why We Need Public Policy to Level the Playing Field,” explains why voluntary employer actions alone are not enough to address the women’s leadership gap in the United States. The report also examines the social and economic realities that cause American women—both high-level professionals and low-income workers—to stall out in the career pipeline or drop out altogether.

“To have a truly meaningful approach to address and close the women’s leadership gap, we must bring every woman into the fold—regardless of her background, education level, or professional status,” said Judith Warner, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. “Relying on employers to ‘do the right thing’ for women simply doesn’t work. We need public policies that help all women stay in their jobs and thrive, while calling on companies to step up their gender-equality efforts.”

In addition to calling for policies such as a national system of paid family leave and universal access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education, the report outlines a series of comprehensive policy recommendations to address the women’s leadership gap, including enacting:

  • Tax policies that encourage women’s labor-force participation
  • Legislation guaranteeing all workers the right to request flexible work arrangements
  • Laws that protect low-wage and hourly workers against abusive scheduling practices
  • The use of existing anti-discrimination laws to pursue employers who stigmatize workers for taking leave
  • Policies that incentivize companies to step up their efforts on behalf of women’s advancement through better reporting and greater transparency

Read the reports: 

Related resource:

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Chelsea Kiene at ckiene@americanprogress.org or 202.478.5328.

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