The Most Powerful Women in D.C.; Where are the Women Nobel Laureates? (Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation)

Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!

Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to safeguard freedom of expression. (World Economic Forum / Flickr)

Dear fans of gender balance in politics,

Each week brings a new reminder that when there is not an intentional effort to ensure that women are nominated for positions and awards, the male status quo fills the void. According to this article on Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Ireland’s National Public Service Media platform, just one woman has been granted a Nobel Prize in 2021, and scientists are concerned that women were passed over despite their many contributions:

Press freedom, the plight of refugees and climate modelling: 12 men and only one woman won Nobel Prizes this year for conferring “the greatest benefit to humankind.”

Investigative journalist Maria Ressa was the sole female winner this year as she picked up the Peace Prize alongside Dmitry Muratov of Russia.

Only 59 Nobel prizes have gone to women (6.2% of the total) since they were first awarded in 1901, including two for Marie Curie, who won for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

While four women won Nobel prizes in 2020 — close to the 2009 record of five — the awards remain male-dominated as much of the prizewinning work dates back 20, 30 or even 40 years when fewer women reached the top levels of academic research.

In 2019, there was only one woman laureate, and in 2017 and 2016 there were none.

However, the head of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, has ruled out gender quotas and defended the selection of this year’s Nobel laureates.

Goran Hansson said: “It’s sad that there are so few women Nobel laureates and it reflects the unfair conditions in society, particularly in years past but still existing. And there’s so much more to do.

“We have decided we will not have quotas for gender or ethnicity. We want every laureate (to) be accepted… because they made the most important discovery, and not because of gender or ethnicity. And that is in line with the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s last will.

“We want to make sure that all deserving women get a fair chance to be evaluated for the Nobel Prize. So we have made significant efforts to encourage nominations of women scientists.

“And we made sure that we know about the problem and also about subconscious bias, etc. in the (prize-awarding) committees and academies. We’ve had lectures by sociologists, we’ve had group discussions, we have put quite a lot of effort into it.

“In the end, we will give the prize to those who are found the most worthy, those who have made the most important contributions.”

Women leaders, painted by Melanie Humble.

The Washingtonian Magazine offers an antidote to the lack of women winning Nobel prizes with this piece by Jane Recker on the most powerful women in Washington, D.C., some of whom are captured in the collage of women leaders above:

Our list of the region’s 150-plus most powerful women includes hometown heavyweights, national notables, and folks shaping things from the arts to medicine to the economy.

Power in Washington is a complicated thing to quantify. Some people have it by virtue of the office they hold. Others maintain it by virtue of their reputations, no matter what their business card might read. And in a political city, many of the most powerful  among us owe their clout to voters—either the constituents who elect them directly or the national electorate who picks the government every four years.

That last factor is a reason why this year’s Most Powerful Women list is replete with new names—not only did the government change, but the new administration put a lot more women into top jobs, starting with the vice-presidency.

Of course, not all power resides in high-profile arenas like politics. Some of the most powerful women on our list might be able to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue unnoticed—while still causing people to tremble in whatever other world they help shape.

Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown. In 2019, no women over 50 were cast in any leading roles in 2019’s 30 top-grossing films out of the U.S., U.K., France or Germany. (Courtesy of HBO)

While women in Washington are being heralded for the power they wield, women in entertainment are also being recognized for their leadership according to this piece in the Hollywood Reporter:

“This decade [has] to be about women having each other’s backs,” said Kate Winslet in her Sept. 19 Emmy acceptance speech for HBO’s Mare of Easttown.

Around the world, the international film and television industry’s most powerful women had already been hard at work with that mission. Female producers, studio executives and channel bosses are seeing a historic opportunity to capitalize on the seismic changes wrought by the #MeToo movement to push for true inclusion and diversity across the entertainment business.

But impressive advances in onscreen representation have not been matched by gains in corporate power structures, where, at least at the very top and particularly outside the United States, it is still very much a man’s world. “A lot of work needs to be done in the C-suite, where serious decisions are made,” notes Mo Abudu, CEO of pan-African TV conglomerate EbonyLife Media.

Nevertheless, the glass ceiling smashers on The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual list of the world’s most powerful female entertainment execs are united in their passion to continue to fight for systemic industry changes and to inspire younger women to, as Rola Bauer, president of MGM International TV Productions, puts it, “seek acknowledgment and credit for their work [and] not get left out of the narrative.”

Speaking of recognition—congratulations 🎉 to our fantastic ally Erin Hottenstein who directs Colorado 50-50 for receiving a $10,000 grant for its work toward gender parity:

A Fort Collins-based nonprofit has been awarded a $10,000 grant for its work to boost gender parity in positions of power in Colorado.

The grant given to Colorado 50-50 comes from Royal Neighbors of America, an Illinois-based, women-led insurance company. Along with the grant, the company also named Colorado 50-50 founder Erin Hottenstein the winner of one of ten Nation of Neighbors empowerment awards.

The grant will go toward helping to “hire an attorney and nonprofit consultant and fund more trainings, marketing, and internship stipends.”

“I really want to express my gratitude to all the people who have helped us,” Hottenstein said in a statement. “It’s really a community effort to inspire that next wave of women leaders!”

Najla Bouden Ramadhane meets with Tunisian President Kais Saied. (Twitter)

As always there is a lot going on relating to international women’s representation especially with recent or upcoming elections in Canada, Russia, Qatar, Germany, Iraq, South Africa and Tunisia. In its Ms. Global series, Ms. magazine offers a great biweekly roundup on election updates from a number of countries, along with this excellent newsletter called #WomenLead which features commentary on global women’s representation—I encourage everyone to subscribe! 

This article from Mena offers a deep dive into the elections held this week in Iraq:

Despite the many challenges facing women in Iraq’s male-dominated society, Nissan Al Salhy is determined to pursue a career in politics.

The Arabic teacher from the southern province of Dhi Qar is vying for a seat in parliament in Sunday’s national elections, joining a new generation of young women seeking a powerful role in politics for the first time in their lives.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, “the situation of women in Iraq has been very bad”, Ms Al Salhy, 45, told The National while on her way to an event to speak to women voters.

“They are under huge pressure in a traditionally male-dominated society regardless of whether they are strong or not,” she said.

Female candidates running in Sunday’s election say they will work on pushing women’s issues to the fore in a country where women’s rights are being eroded. They say they are undaunted by the hardships they face, including cyber bullying and harassment.

There are 951 female candidates registered to compete for 83 seats reserved for women in the 329-seat parliament. Women make up nearly 30 per cent of the total number of candidates standing, 3,249.

According to the country’s constitution and the electoral law, women’s representation in parliament must be no less than 25 per cent. Political parties are also required to have candidate lists on which at least a quarter of the candidates are women.

New California legislation will require retailers to have ‘gender neutral’ toy displays. (Creative Commons)

A highlight of my week was seeing a collection of stories about efforts to address gender norms in the toy sector including this one in The Washington Post about California’s governor signing legislation to require retailers to have ‘gender neutral’ toy displays and this one from Entrepreneur about Lego’s launch of its ‘Ready for Girls’ campaign for gender parity fueled by research from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media:

LEGO, the popular building toy company, announced Sunday that it is launching a “Ready for Girls” campaign after commissioning research from the Geena Davis Institute on gender norms in play. 

The campaign “celebrates girls who rebuild the world through creative problem solving.” 

The researchers surveyed almost 7,000 parents and children between the ages of six and 14 around the world, finding that girls feel increasingly confident to engage in a variety of play and creative activities, but are held back by societal stereotypes as they age. Society must rebuild its perceptions, actions and words, according to the Danish company. 

The survey concluded “that girls are ready for the world but society isn’t quite ready to support their growth through play,” according to a release. LEGO cited some statistics from the research, including the revelation that 74% of boys and 62% of girls believe some activities are meant only for girls and some are meant only for boys. Notably, 82% of girls and 71% of boys believe it’s fine for girls to play football and boys to do ballet.

The surveyed adults had different conclusions, and that’s where LEGO identified a problem.

Among parents, 85% are more likely to think of scientists and athletes as men than women and 89% were more likely to think of engineers as men than women. Children shared the same impressions, LEGO noted, but are much more likely than their male peers to consider a wider range of professions to be for both men and women.

Despite progress at the cultural level and globally for women in politics, women remain underrepresented in government in the United States.

The bias of gatekeepers who don’t recruit women to run, the power of incumbency that makes winning as a challenger all but impossible, and legislative rules built around outdated gender norms are all barriers to women’s electoral success. And, as a case in point, of the 12,415 people who have served in Congress, just 5 percent have been women.

It’s time for innovative strategies that address the barriers women face—head on.

Program partner Sharon Nelson, founder and CEO of Civically Re-Engaged Women, is a board member of the Museum of Political Corruption which created the Nellie Bly Award for Investigative Reporting. Alex Gibney will be presented with the 2021 award at a virtual event on Oct. 28—register here.

Nellie Bly was a pioneering and intrepid woman journalist—learn more about her here:

In 1887, Nellie Bly stormed into the office of the New York World, one of the leading newspapers in the country. She expressed interest in writing a story on the immigrant experience in the United States. Although, the editor declined her story he challenged Bly to investigate one of New York’s most notorious mental hospitals. Bly not only accepted the challenge, she decided to feign mental illness to gain admission and expose how patients were treated. With this courageous and bold act Bly cemented her legacy as one of the foremost female journalists in history.

Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran on May 5, 1864. Her family owned a lucrative mill in Cochran, Pennsylvania. At the age of six, Bly lost her father. Unable to maintain the land or their house, the family moved. Her mother also remarried but later divorced due to abuse. While attending Indiana Teacher’s College, Elizabeth added an “e” to her last name becoming Elizabeth Jane Cochrane. Due to the family’s financial crisis she was unable to finish her education. No longer in school, Bly focused on helping her mother run a boardinghouse. One day an upset Bly decided to pen an open letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Her short but important piece pointed out the paper’s negative representation of women. The editor not only read Bly’s response, he printed her rebuttal, and offered Bly a job as columnist. As a newspaper writer, she took the pen name Nellie Bly. Although Bly was a popular columnist, she was often asked to write pieces that only addressed women.

Wanting to write pieces that addressed both men and women, Bly began looking for a paper that would allow her to write more serious work. In 1886, she moved to New York City. As a woman, Bly found it extremely hard for her to find work. After pretending to be mentally ill for 10 days, the New York World published Bly’s articles about her time in the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island in a six-part series. Ten Days in a Mad-House quickly made Bly one of the most famous journalists in the United States. Furthermore, her hands-on approach to stories developed into a practice now called investigative journalism. Bly’s successful career reached new heights when she decided to travel around the world after reading the popular book Around the World in 80 Days. Her trip only took 72 days, which was a world record. Bly would only hold it for a few months.

Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884—she is pictured above knitting on an airplane, on the back of a U.N. cookbook with my grandmother Marjorie Terrell (bottom right), and speaking of her service as a diplomat later in life.

If you, like me, want more statues, monuments and airports named for trailblazing women, then I hope you will sign the petition for the Eleanor Roosevelt Airport (ERA). It might also be time for a Ruth Bader Ginsburg Airport to accompany my push for a Sandra Day O’Connor airport?

Remember to check out this week’s suggested feminist reading from the team at RepresentWomen:

My Toad Lilies are gorgeous this year…💜

That’s all for this week,

Up Next:


Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.