The Women’s Leadership Forum: A presidential initiative
Letter to the Editor | Friday, September 4, 2020
This year is the centennial of women’s suffrage in America.
The battle for a woman’s right to vote was decades long, and on Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified and American women triumphed in their enfranchisement. For almost a century, women carried this movement on their backs and advocated for their voices to be used for justice, championing their convictions of equality on a national stage. After 100 years of a woman’s right to vote, it is important that we reflect on how we can continue to engender this kind of boldness and strength within our women and cultivate the next generation of leaders.
Women’s leadership is directly linked to progress in a multitude of ways. In business, women can bring new problem-solving techniques and collaborative mentalities to the table. In a study conducted by The McKinsey Global Institute, they found that the advancement of women’s equality in the workplace could add $12 trillion to the world’s GDP by 2025. The Peterson Institute for International Economics found that having women at a C-Suite level in a company significantly boosts net margins, and when 30% of leaders are women, there can be a 15% increase in profitability.
Gender diversity is also imperative in STEM fields, and it can lead to more accurate research on a number of fronts. When scientific researchers do not consider sex or gender, they default to using the male body as the standard, which can cause serious health and safety implications for women and children. For example, in car crashes, women have a 47% higher risk of serious injury and a 17% higher risk of death, simply because the crash dummies represent the average male. In fields where protective safety equipment is needed, only 5% of women report their gear fitting properly, which can also lead to fatal consequences. And even when we look at simple innovation, technology like Siri is more likely to respond to questions asked by a man, due to the pitch of voice.
When women hold political office, the positive effects on development are undeniable. The National Democratic Institute finds that women are more likely to work across party lines, prioritize health and education and secure lasting peace. In two studies conducted by the Brookings Institute, one found that female legislators in India raised the economic performance in their constituencies by 1.8% per year, and the second found that female legislators resulted in a 9-12% decline in Maternal Mortality Rate. And although we have seen great progress in the area of women’s political representation worldwide in the last 20 years, in America, women make up 51% of the population but only 23.5% of Congress.
This year, Sarah and I are serving as just the third all-female ticket to hold the office of Student Body President and Vice President in the history of Notre Dame. We want to continue to encourage this kind of leadership and empower women to take up space on a campus that was not initially built for them. For this reason, we are excited to announce our new presidential initiative: the Women’s Leadership Forum.
Our vision is to create a monthly speaker series featuring diverse and dynamic female leaders from the Notre Dame community who can share their personal journeys with students and provide words of wisdom to anybody who identifies as a woman on this campus and aspires to be a leader within her community. We hope this series will play a role in galvanizing more women into leadership both on campus and on a larger scale, and we are looking forward to having thoughtful conversations about what it means to be a leader, use our voices for justice and lean on each other as we strive for change.
But most importantly, as we continue to endeavor for women’s equality, representation, and leadership, it is imperative that we keep intersectionality at the core of the movement. We cannot forget that women’s suffrage did not guarantee full electoral equality for all. Although Native American, Asian American, Latinx and African American women played a major role in the women’s suffrage movement, they still had a long fight for suffrage beyond the ratification of the 19th amendment.
As Ida B. Wells once said, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” As a Notre Dame community, let’s use our light of truth to celebrate diversity, create inclusive spaces, work for racial justice, build community and uplift one another. Let’s use it to be a force for good.
Keep fighting the good fight.
student body president, senior
The inaugural event for the Women’s Leadership Forum will take place Sunday, September 6 at 5 p.m. You can tune in to the Student Government Youtube page to watch the livestream. Our first keynote speaker will be Karrah Harris, the Director of Public Affairs at the University of Notre Dame.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.