The announcement that Hillary Clinton will be running for president in the 2016 election will, undoubtedly, lead many to ask that age-old question that lady-politicians just can’t seem to shake: Can a woman be president? Will she be too emotional/soft/sensitive? Will she, with her weak lady brain and uncontrollable feelings, be able to stand up to other world leaders and make sound, rational choices guided by something other than the unruly whims of her uterus? Won’t she be too busy with being a grandmother?? People have been speculating for years that Clinton would run for president, and these speculations have, of course, been accompanied by questions about women’s fitness for the job. Bill O’Reilly made headlines in February of 2014 when he asked two female political commentators on air, “There’s gotta be some downside to having a woman president, right? Something! Something that may not fit with that office. Correct?” (Their answer was a resounding “No.”)
I almost don’t want to dignify these types of questions with a response because the questions themselves — which essentially ask, “Do they fundamental qualities typically associated with being a woman automatically nullify a person's potential effectiveness to function within the role of president?” — are inherently problematic. They suggest that all women (and all men, for that matter) are the same, and imply that the reason we haven’t had a female president before is not because of centuries of deeply ingrained sexism that hindered women from attaining leadership roles, but because of some undiagnosed but oft-referenced biological flaw that makes them unfit for leading. Clinton’s gender shouldn’t enter into the conversation of her ability to lead, anymore than a man would be questioned over his male-ness. Clinton has a long history of public service and formidable success in the political arena — and that should be the metric by which she her viability as a presidential candidate should be judged.
That said, there is plenty of research available to show that women are, in fact, perfectly capable of handling, and in fact excelling, at high-pressure leadership positions. In some capacities, women actually tend to perform better than their male counterparts. (Keep in mind that these are generalizations. Just as all women are not the same, all men are not all the same either.) Check these out:
1. Women are better at multi-tasking
A study out of the U.K., published in BMC Psychology in 2013, conducted two experiments to test how men and women multi-task. In the first experiment, 120 men and 120 women were given a computer test that asked them to count and identify shapes. They performed similarly when they were asked to do one of these tasks at a time, but they diverged when they were asked to switch back and forth between these tasks. Both groups slowed, but men slowed significantly more than women. In the second experiment, the groups were given a number of real world tasks—like answering the phone, finding a location on a map, and making a plan to find a key lost in a field—to complete in eight minutes. The researchers found that the women were better able to prioritize their tasks and manage their time. They were also more methodical, and therefore successful, at planning how to find the key.
One of the researchers, Dr. Keith R. Laws, told BBC News of the study, "It suggests that - in a stressed and complex situation - women are more able to stop and think about what's going on in front of them."
Not a bad trait for the Commander-in-Chief, right?
2. Women make better decisions under stress
Last October, The New York Times did a story about new research by cognitive neuroscientists Mara Mather (University of Southern California) and Nichole R. Lighthall (Duke University) that studies decision-making under stress. In the study, subjects played a computer game, with gambling as its premise. Here's how it's played: Players have a balloon that they can pump with air. The bigger it gets, the more points they get, but they also risk popping it. Mather and Lighthall found that, under normal conditions, male and female subjects played the same way. When under stress (caused by plunging the players’ hands into very cold water), however, female players were more likely to play conservatively, cashing out their points before their balloons could pop. Male players, in contrast, were more likely to take bigger risks under stress.
Similarly, a 2007 study by Stephanie D. Preston (University of Michigan), found that women made better decisions than men under stress. The subjects had to play a gambling game, and were told that after 20 minutes of playing, they would be required to give a speech that would be judged. As the female players got closer to their speech-making time (and thus, more stressed), they made better decisions, taking small risks with high rates of success. The men, in contrast, became more reckless as they got became more stressed, taking higher risks and facing greater losses. Interestingly, the study also found that when players lost, the female players were more likely to recognize that their strategy had been bad than the male players.
3. Women are simply proven to make excellent leaders
In a 2012 article for the Harvard Business Review, leadership development consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman discuss their extensive survey of effectiveness of male and female leaders in a variety of fields. For their data, they used input from leaders “peers, bosses, and direct reports” to evaluate 7,280 leaders. The study found that, across 16 markers of strong leadership, women rated higher than men in 12 categories. The survey found that the gap between male and female ratings grew the higher up the hierarchy someone was, meaning that female leaders in the topmost positions at their companies were rated as significantly more effective than male leaders in similar positions. Zenger and Folkman suggest that this discrepancy could be due to the fact that women feel less secure in their positions than men, and therefore feel like that have to continually keep proving themselves to their bosses and employees, so that rather than simply settling into their leadership roles, they continue to try to improve themselves.
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