Dr Alexandra Kelso, Senior Lecturer in Politics
Saturday 8th March is International Women’s Day, and routinely an occasion for reflection on how much remains to be done in the fight for women’s equality. And while it’s true that the battle is, sadly, far from over, it’s helpful also to think of the achievements that have been made, if only to keep our spirits high. Which is why some recent polling on Hillary Clinton’s prospects should she choose to run for the US Presidency in 2016 offers a ray of light.
The USA Today/Pew Research Centre Poll indicates that Clinton is better liked and more respected than when she ran in 2008. This is good news on two fronts, irrespective of whether you support her as a candidate. First, that she is more respected can be attributed in large part to her time as Secretary of State, and is a notable indicator of how important it is for us to see women in strong leadership roles: the more women we see in leadership roles, the more we will acknowledge them for performing well, and the less unusual it will become to see women in those roles – a virtuous circle. Second, the news that Clinton is better liked is the real break through. Research consistently shows that women face a significant ‘likeability’ factor in the workplace and that men do not: in studies, people (both men and women) report liking women less when they are as strong leaders, but report no such negativity for men under the same conditions. This was regrettably exploited by Obama during the 2008 presidential elections when he declared Clinton to be ‘likeable enough,’ a barbed comment that simply would not have had the same resonance if applied to a male candidate.
This new polling indicates that respondents judge gender as a less important factor for Clinton than it was in 2008, and that the ‘likeability’ factor is far more muted. This may be good for Clinton, and for those who would like to see her elected president. But beyond this specific example, these numbers provide encouragement on the journey to increase female representation across all leadership positions in society. Perhaps one day, we will celebrate International Women’s Day, not by lamenting the absence of women from the key positions of decision-making, but by celebrating because there are so many.