The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

20 percent of Congress is women. Only 5 percent of CEOs are.

Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) and her daughter, Taliah, 7, walk at the U.S. Capitol on International Women's Day. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
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For every 492 men in the United States, there are 508 women. You’d be hard-pressed to guess that ratio, though, if the groups of Americans you’re observing are ones that wield a disproportionate amount of power.

The Pew Research Center released data on Thursday that explored Americans' comfort level with women in positions of power. There is a sharp divide between men and women, as you might expect if you didn’t just arrive here. There’s similarly a sharp divide by party identification.

While 6 in 10 Americans think that there are too few women in high political office and top executive positions, that’s boosted by 7 in 10 women and nearly 8 in 10 Democrats holding those views. Only about half of men agree, and only a third to 40 percent of Republicans do. Since men happen to hold strong majorities in most positions of power, it’s not much of a surprise that many of them don’t see much urgency in being replaced.

A particularly fascinating bit of data included in recent Pew research is an assessment of the density of women in various fields over time. Pew assessed governors' seats, state legislatures, Congress, businesses and education to determine how many women were in power and how that had changed.

No group has a higher density of women than university presidents, that data shows. As of 2016, 3 in 10 university presidents were women.

That metric surged past the second-most densely female group about a decade ago. That is the density of women in state legislatures, which, according to Pew’s most recent figures, is at about 25 percent.

Again, this is the second-most-heavily female power structure — and women make up about 1 in 4 members of the group. It goes downhill from here.

How obvious is the imbalance in power between men and women in prominent positions? The Senate, where less than 1 in 4 members are women, is the third-best group in Pew’s data.

The density of women in the Senate narrowly edged out the number of women who serve on the boards of directors for Fortune 500 companies, 22.2 percent.

That figure, though, has surged in recent years, according to Pew’s analysis. Remember that as we move forward.

Next is the density of women in the House of Representatives — just below 1 in 5.

This figure is likely to change in January, though. The primaries in 2018 have seen a surge in women running for office, and there could be more than 60 women who assume new seats in Congress after the midterms. (Most of those women are Democrats.)

Among the lowest-density groups is the governors. About a decade ago, governors' seats were held by a greater density of women than served in either chamber of Congress. After 2006, though, that figure dropped.

With that, we come to the group that sees the least representation of women. Remember above when we noted that corporate boards had seen a surge in membership among women? Well, that surge hasn’t translated into the chief executive positions at those companies. Yes, the number of women serving as corporate CEOs is up over the past 20 years. But the increase has been more modest than in any other powerful group.

Pew also assessed the density of women in the Cabinet. Recent administrations, including that of President Trump, have seen at their peaks about a quarter of Cabinet seats being filled by women.

You’ll notice, though, that the pattern apparent in those top-level figures from Pew holds: Democratic presidents have been more likely to have more heavily female Cabinets than are Republicans.

So let’s assume that the trend lines exhibited in the graphs above continue. At what point will women make up at least half of each of those groups? By our calculations:

  • University presidents: 2046
  • Legislatures: 2073
  • Fortune 500 boards: 2081
  • The Senate: 2086
  • The House: 2102
  • Governors: 2134
  • Fortune 500 CEOs: 2202

Just think. Your great-great-great-granddaughter could be the Fortune 500 executive who finally makes that group representative of the public at large. What a time to be alive.