Could women have prevented shutdown?

The RootOctober 20, 2013 

When history looks back on this latest government shutdown, there will likely be a few key culprits who get the blame. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will surely be mentioned, along with the Tea Party and Obamacare.

But is it possible that the biggest culprit of all may escape blame? I'm referring to our male-dominated political leadership.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz sparked controversy in the conservative blogosphere on Tuesday by saying during a recent television interview, "If we put all the women, Republican and Democrat, in the House together, the consensus from all of us is that we would get this done in a few hours."

According to studies, the leadership traits predominant in female leaders are precisely the types of qualities that prove useful in tense conflicts such as the recent shutdown.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a study based on surveys of 600 board directors, which was published earlier this year in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, concluded, "Women leaders are more likely than men to consider competing interests and take a cooperative approach when making decisions."

Although male leaders are more likely to feel bound to rules and traditions, the study found that female leaders are more likely "to use cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building."

These findings are particularly noteworthy given that a 2011 study published in the United Kingdom found that companies with at least one woman on their board of directors were 20 percent less likely to file for bankruptcy. Even more significant, a 2011 study from Catalyst found that companies in which women make up 19 to 44 percent of board positions enjoyed a 26 percent higher return on invested capital.

At the moment there are 98 women serving in both houses of Congress, which sounds like an impressive number until you consider that there are 100 senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives. Women have come a long way, but we are still far from gender parity in political representation. Women actually outnumber men in America.

So what's at stake when there aren't more women at the table? Well, for one, men end up leading the conversation on issues that directly affect women.

Male members of Congress have repeatedly tried to overturn one of Obamacare's most significant accomplishments, a provision that makes birth control affordable and accessible to all women by removing costly copays.

The anti-contraception cause has been championed by Republican male legislators like Missouri's Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, while female legislators like Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., have stood against such provisions. Just imagine if these women didn't have a seat at the table?

But the other reason having these women at the table matters is that they can help find solutions not just to women's issues but to America's biggest issues. Collins, credited with breaking ranks with the more conservative male members of her party over birth control, is also credited with playing a key role in trying to find a compromise to end the shutdown. Working with a bipartisan coalition of fellow female senators, she pushed a plan that generated optimistic coverage in the media but ultimately didn't end the shutdown.

Not enough other members, in either male-dominated party, would get on board.

As the shutdown draws to a close, the question many of us will be left with is whether things might have been different if there had been more mature leaders, less focused on their own egos and saving face and more focused on the needs of the American people. According to a new survey, we may just get a chance to elect leaders like that.

A new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 60 percent of Americans want to fire every single member of Congress. Maybe if that happens, we'll end up with a Congress more representative of the interests of all Americans, which means a Congress with more capable women.

It's worth noting that the Houston Chronicle, a newspaper in the home state of shutdown proponent Ted Cruz, had this to say last week about the senator, whom the outlet endorsed during his last run for office:

"When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November's general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation -- that he follow Hutchison's example in his conduct as a senator."

Obviously, he has not done so. Cruz has been part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution.

The paper is referring to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the woman Cruz replaced.

Keli Goff, is The Root's special correspondent.

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