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Women underrepresented in leadership roles in U.S.

WASHINGTON – For all the talk of equality and civil rights in America, the United States lags behind other nations when it comes to putting women in positions of leadership, according to a national women’s magazine editor who lives in Corrales, N.M.

Martha Burk, a money editor at Ms. Magazine and a co-founder for the Center for Advancement of Public Policy in Washington, will speak on the subject of women in leadership during an Albuquerque International Association lecture Friday, May 2, at the University of New Mexico Continuing Education Auditorium. Burk’s lecture is the final talk in a series on women in global leadership and she will attempt to put the series’ four previous lectures into context.

Burk said America could have its first female president if Hillary Clinton runs in 2016, but that wouldn’t make the nation a trendsetter.

“Certainly we’re higher (in terms of women in leadership positions) than a country like Yemen, but we’re behind all of the Nordic countries, most of Europe and some of Asia,” Burk said. “It is directly because we take a different approach to, for example, family support, and in this country ‘quota’ is a bad word and many of those countries have quotas in terms of (women in) their parliaments.”

Burk will also discuss her experiences conducting training workshops for nongovernmental associations, the U.S. Department of State, UNESCO and universities around the world. She said she’ll explore how American women can use their political and cultural experiences to help women in emerging democracies also blaze a leadership path – but she added a caveat.

“I disagree with what might be the conventional wisdom in terms of emerging democracies,” Burk said. “The worst thing we can do, in my view, is to go into an emerging democracy and say, ‘I’m an American; let me show you how to do it.’ A lot of this stuff we didn’t do right, and we’re still living with it 30 and 40 years later. What we should be doing is telling them how to benefit from our mistakes and experiences, and I don’t think we’re doing enough of that.”

Burk cited pay equity as an area in which America is “not any better off than most of the rest of the world” because the nation still doesn’t pay women at a rate equal to men for the same work.

“All of our civil rights laws in the United States, whether it’s race or gender or whatever it is, are what we call complaint-driven,” she said. “That means there is no affirmative obligation on the part of any business to pay women equally. There is only punishment if they don’t. They are not even required to evaluate their pay scales. So what happens? They sit back and wait to get sued.”

Despite her criticisms, Burk said she is optimistic about the future of female leadership in America and around the world.

“I am optimistic, but in terms of the United States, I am slowly optimistic,” she said.

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