How a critical mass of women can change an institution

Jay Newton-Small, author of "Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works," sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss what happens when a critical mass of women wield power and influence in public life and the workforce.

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    Now to the NewsHour Bookshelf.

    I recently sat down with Jay Newton-Small. She is a Washington correspondent for TIME magazine and she's author of "Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works."

    Jay Newton-Small, welcome.

    JAY NEWTON-SMALL, Author, "Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works": Thanks so much.


    I guess there's no confusing what broad refers to here, right?



    No. It's actually referring to women. And I don't know if you knew this, but broad used to be a pretty derogatory term for women, which we're hoping to sort of reclaim it a little bit, but it used to apply to our hips, because we have broad hips, because we bear children.

    And of course we bear children. We should be proud of that fact.


    Well, I absolutely remember when it was considered a derogatory term. But times are changing.

    Jay Newton-Small, you do a lot of reporting here on how women are doing. What's really interesting, though, is how you document women have to reach a certain level, a critical mass, so to speak, before things really change. And you reported on the U.S. Congress. Talk about that and what you found.



    So, the book actually grew from a story that I did for "TIME" magazine about two years ago during the government shutdown, where the 20 women at that point of the 100-member U.S. Senate got together and restarted the negotiations to reopen the government, when none of the men would talk to each other.

    And that — I really was interested in that session, because those 20 women ended up producing more than 75 percent of the major legislation that passed that session. They really batted well above they are weight. And I got — it turns out there's this theory of critical mass.

    So, somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent, women really begin to change an institution, whether it's a legislature or a corporate board, a Navy ship or an appellate court. And then I started looking at all those corners and finding other areas where women had reached this sort of tipping point, and they were really beginning to change the way we govern, change the way we manage, change the way we command.


    What is it about the 20 or 30 percent? Why isn't it 50 percent?


    So, it's interesting. You know, one woman really is a token. Two or 20 percent — or, like, sort of less than 20 percent are considered kind of a pair.

    And that's — there have been a ton of studies that show — or at least two studies that I can think of that show that pairs are actually worse than either having one or three, because either the women are considered conspiratorial or they're considered sort of archenemies. And it's this strange kind of, I don't know what's going on with the two.

    But when you start getting a plurality of the women, three or more, depending on the size of the institution, that's when you really begin — women's voices are considered less exceptional, and it's not this weird thing, like, where are you coming from? And it becomes less — sort of less objectifying them, and more sort of normal, like brother and sister or normal work areas.


    And what did you find that women want to do differently from men? Where does the policy change or the direction of an organization change because of women who are making decisions?


    It depends on the organization.

    But there's been a lot of great research, one that shows that women tend to be a lot more prepared than men. They tend to really want to dig in on an issue. Women ask the hard questions and say, where's the accounting? Where's the money going? How is it being spent?

    Women also tend to be more collaborative. They tend to look for win-win situations, where everybody can win, everyone can advance together, whereas men can be — not all men, but a lot of men can be sort of zero-sum game, I win, you lose.

    So, those are two sort of very common aspects of…



    But it's not as if all women agree on the direction things should go.


    No, and — not at all.

    And, in fact, you see that in the Senate. For example, you had Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York and Claire McCaskill from Missouri disagreeing over how to do sexual assault in the military bill.

    But that is the great joy of having enough women to disagree. Right? You don't have to all be on the same page to go places. But what you have to do is respect each other. And, so, notably, when they disagreed, they agreed not to recriminate each other, not to like sling accusations or insults. They just said, we disagree, but we still appreciate each other's perspectives.


    I was struck that the one area where you said there doesn't seem to be change when they get to critical mass is the private sector. And you looked at the financial industry.

    And there was a quote from a woman who had been on several corporate boards. She said: "There's a trend. When women and money penetrate a sector, the money and power leaves it." She said: "When women finally got into investment banking, all the money went to private equity. When women got into private equity, it went to hedge funds."

    So, why is it different?


    I don't know that it's the men are — I can't say that they're, like, conspiring — conspiring to keep women out of it.

    But what — it is the sense that, when you are diversifying, when the power structure is no longer the people that look exactly like you, it moves beyond the sort of core group of a certain number of people, that that makes some people uncomfortable. It makes many — certain people leave, start different industries, start to do different things.

    Women are chasing the money, but, to some degree — like, you see this also in medicine, for example. When women weren't allowed into medicine, and then they were finally allowed into pediatrics, right, and all the, like, money left pediatrics. And then women were finally allowed into some kind of surgery, but the kinds of surgery they're in are not the kinds that all the money is made.

    And so it is striking. It's an interesting phenomenon. And I don't know what that says about our culture.


    But it raises some interesting questions.

    Finally, Jay Newton-Small, you say you're hopeful about the future. Why?


    Well, so, it was economic necessity that first brought women into the work force with Rosie the Riveter during World War II.

    And it wasn't until 1970 that all of the laws banning married women from working without their husband's permission were fully repealed. And I think it will be economic necessity that brings women to the work force now, fully. And you see that. We're right on the cusp of it. So, by 2030, the baby boomer generation will fully retire and we will be short 26 million workers.

    There's only two ways to make up that shortfall. One, you bring in a ton of new immigrants, which is really hard to imagine with this Congress. Or, two, you bring women up to full employment. And that is a lot easier — much more easily done. There's plenty of qualified women who can do it. We make up more than half of the college degrees already. And so it will be easy to — much easier to do that.


    Well, it's 15 years away, but maybe things will change in the meantime.


    I'm betting on it.



    Jay Newton-Small.

    The book is "Broad Influence."

    Thank you very much.


    Thank you, Judy.

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