UT Student Government representation proves gender equality has not yet been achieved

Olivia Griffin

The current makeup of Student Government demonstrates that much progress has yet to be made for women in leadership roles, and it won’t be addressed by a female U.S. president.

The last time that a woman was elected Student Body president was in 2011. Currently, the leadership roles in the Student Government — Speaker of the Assembly, president and vice president of the Senate of College Councils, Liberal Arts Council president, etc. — are almost exclusively filled by men. Yet this trend is prevalent in institutions across the country: Of the top 100 institutions ranked by the U.S. News and World Report, less than a third have female student body presidents.

The problem isn’t necessarily a bias against women — it’s the fact that women don’t run for leadership positions in the first place (the “ambition gap”). When women run for public office, they are equally likely to be elected as their male counterparts, but there is a documented stigma against ambitious women who do decide to run for office. A Harvard Business School study noted that for men, success and likability are correlated. For women, as success increases, likability decreases. But, as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has noted, it is this stigma combined with a false sense of being unqualified that keep women from running for office at all levels, including universities.

During an intern lunch at my first political internship, my boss asked those of us interested in running for public office to raise their hands. Immediately almost all the men — who already greatly outnumbered the women — shot their hands up. The women, including myself, waited a while before half-heartedly raising their hands and then dropping them back down. I had an interest in running for office and should have raised my hand straight up, but I didn’t want to appear too ambitious. I’ve been maintaining this lie for about three years now.

Yet the ambition gap does not fully address the current situation. Men constitute 81 percent of our congressmen in the federal government and 56 percent of our appointed Government Relations directors at UT. This is before factoring in the further divide that happens when children and “work-life balance” are thrown into the picture.

It’s time for more women to be in charge. A truly equal university is not one in which a few women are in leadership positions here and there or in which a women has been SG president in the past. It is one in which women are consistently in equal numbers to men in leadership positions. Women provide unique perspectives and cannot expect men to adequately advocate for issues that predominantly affect women, such as rape culture, campus safety and access to women’s health care through University Health Services.

To encourage women to achieve leadership positions in SG, the university should first acknowledge the disparity and promote open discussion regarding the issues and organize workshops and organizations designed to empower women to seek leadership roles. Much of the change will also happen through example. If we can have more women in leadership who set a positive example and support other aspiring leaders, we will make significant progress towards women’s equality on campus.

Griffin is a government and Plan II junior from Dallas. Follow her on Twitter @OGlikesdogs.