Motherhood and Power in the USA, China and Russia

by Leith Greenslade

The quality of leadership in the three most powerful nations in the world matters.

Not only do the United States of America, China and Russia govern 1.8 billion of the world’s 7 billion citizens, but their economic power and influence shape global growth and, increasingly human development, in many of the world’s nations.

With a new set of ambitious Global Goals to achieve by 2030, including ending poverty, preventable child deaths and malnutrition, the world will need its very best talent at the helm of governments, businesses, universities and civil society.

In this context, the results of the 2017 Motherhood+Public Power Index can only be described as deeply disturbing.

At this point in time, just 32 of the 480 most powerful positions in the USA, China and Russia are held by leaders who are also mothers. That’s a rate of 7%.

Mothers do slightly better in the USA, holding 20 of the top 160 jobs (12.5%), compared to mothers in China, who hold just 7 of the 160 most powerful positions (4%) and mothers in Russia, who hold a paltry 5 (3%).

This is in stark contrast to the proportion of top leaders who are also fathers — more than 95% in China and Russia, and almost 80% in the USA.

Of the four sectors measured by the Motherhood+Public Power Index, universities and governments perform best in promoting leaders who are also mothers into the top jobs. This is due to the larger number of top American universities led by women who are also mothers, and to the stronger representation of women in the USA, Chinese and Russian governments, relative to other sectors.

In contrast, the business and philanthropic sectors record the lowest representation of leaders who are also mothers. There are only 5 mothers among the top 80 CEOs and philanthropists in the USA, 4 in China and none in Russia.

The conclusion could not be clearer. Mothers are dramatically underrepresented in the halls of power in the USA, China and Russia, while fathers are dramatically overrepresented.

If the USA, China and Russia had the same proportion of mothers leading their most powerful institutions as they do in the population (40%), we would expect to see 44 more mothers in the top jobs in the United States, 57 more in China and 59 in Russia.

Since the Motherhood + Public Power Index was launched in 2015, there has been no progress in the proportion of women with children among the most powerful 160 American leaders.

What can be done?

What can be done to accelerate the proportion of women who are also mothers into 4 out of every 10 leadership positions?

First, we need mothers in the USA, China and Russia to celebrate and support the mothers already in powerful positions (see the list of the 32 most powerful mothers in the USA, China and Russia below). We should all know their names.

Second, we all need to push for the changes that would make it easier for more mothers to pursue their professional careers to the levels of highest influence across government, business, academia and civil society. Primarily this will involve a profound transformation in work norms so that workplaces deliver on the “deep and temporal flexibility” championed so powerfully by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Claudia Goldin, and Joan Williams.

Third, we need to build a truly global movement to put more mothers into seats of power. It’s not enough if the USA, China and Russia increase the proportion of mothers in the top power positions. We need countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Ethiopia and Egypt taking on motherhood and public power — measuring it, publicly reporting on it, and ultimately putting in place the policies and programs that will achieve a critical mass of mothers in positions of public influence everywhere.

The world can no longer afford to pay the high price it has been paying for the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, and especially women with children. In the 21st century, we need the very best leaders who reflect the diversity of skills, experiences and values in our population at the helms of our most powerful institutions.

For more details on the Motherhood + Public Power Index visit JustActions.

You can share these results with your networks using #MomPowerIndex.


The Motherhood+Public Power Index is in support of the UN Global Goals and the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman, Every Child movement. The Index uses the latest source data from the US Senate and Congress, the Whitehouse, the National Governors Association, the Forbes Global 2000, Forbes America’s Top Colleges, and Forbes America’s 50 Top Givers. Data on China and Russia Governments were drawn from official government websites. The QS World University Rankings 2016/17 was used for both China and Russia university leaders. The China Philanthropy Project at Harvard University and the Forbes “The World’s Billionaires 2017” provided details on China and Russia philanthropists.