Leadership

When the U.S. Needed Leaders, Women Saved the Day

Thursday, October 24, 2013

While male colleagues were recklessly playing chicken with the federal budget, the debt ceiling and the global economy, 20 exceptional female senators were actively working to find a way out of the shutdown mess.




U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R.-Maine, created a three-point plan to help end the government shutdown.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R.-Maine, created a three-point plan to help end the government shutdown.

Credit: Stuart Isett/Fortune Most Powerful Women, Fortune Live Media
on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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(WOMENSENEWS)--Government Shutdown to Extend Through Thanksgiving, Possibly Christmas.

That could easily have been the headline in today's newspapers. The shutdown might still have been in full swing, thousands of government employees might still have been on furlough and the entire thing would be taking an even bigger toll on our still-recovering economy.

That could have been the headline. But it's not. Why? In a word, women.

Most notably, the women in the U.S. Senate. While their male colleagues were recklessly playing chicken with the federal budget, the debt ceiling and the global economy, these 20 exceptional women were actively working to find a way out of the mess. They didn't let party, political differences or petty squabbles deter them from their goal of reopening the government and ensuring that the United States met its financial obligations. Did we mention that in the Senate women are outnumbered 4-to-1?

Those 20 women managed to accomplish what 80 men in the Senate and 357 men in the House could not. In the end, it was their proposal, not Sen. Harry Reid's or Speaker John Boehner's, that passed the Democratically-controlled Senate, the Republican-controlled House and made its way to President Barack Obama's desk.

To the country, it was a desperately-needed demonstration of leadership. And to us, it was a powerful reminder of the positive effect that women have in office. But to those 20 female senators, it was another example of getting the job done.

Unofficial Women's Club

Through their unofficial women's club, started decades ago by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, these women have put in the time to get to know, mentor and support each other. Time well spent considering their impressive track record of moving legislation through an otherwise paralyzed Congress.

These women understand that if they want to get anything done, and studies show that women run for office because they very much want to get things done, they have to be willing to work together, reach across party lines and compromise. All the skills that their male counterparts have apparently forgotten.

The leadership we saw during this crisis wasn't restricted to the Senate. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House and a former speaker, deserves some of the credit too. Whatever you think of the continuing resolution itself, you have to admit that it's impressive how she was able to corral 100 percent of the Democratic caucus, a factious group in its own right, to support it.

Here's usually where I start to get pushback.

"Now wait just a gosh darned minute, Sam! Didn't some women vote to keep the government shut down?"

There absolutely were.

"Well, see? It makes no difference then."

'All the Difference'

That's where you're wrong. It makes all the difference in the world. Whether it's because you think women lead differently than men (research would back you up, if you do), or because women traditionally are more collaborative than men (again, the research says they are), or because you think we get better outcomes with diverse voices at the table (broken record, but, yes, research), or because you think decision-making bodies behave differently with more women in the room (research, research, research), or because you think it's something special about these individual women (they did, after all, have to be rather exceptional to make it this far), the point is this: we are all better off when we have more women's voices at the decision-making table. More Democratic women, more Republican women, more Independent women, more LGBT women, more women of color, more young women, more women in general.

"But Sam, I would much rather vote for a man who shares my values than vote for a woman who doesn't."

Why are those our only two options? Women exist at every point in the political spectrum. If you care about electing highly-qualified leaders to represent you in office, and you care about making the government work smarter and better and you believe that diversity yields better outcomes, then I have great news for you: these ideas are not in conflict. You can have it all!

There are qualified women running or preparing to run all across the country, women who share your values, women whose voices are sorely missing on Capitol Hill, in governors' mansions, in state houses, in City Hall, on school boards, and yes, in the White House.

If we want to keep words like "shutdown," "standstill," "roadblock," "stalemate" and "gridlock" out of future headlines, the answer is, in a word, women.

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