Collaborative Research: Women as Leaders, Policy-Makers, and Symbols

Grants and Contracts Details


Women have historically been denied access to the most powerful political posts, particularly prestigious inner cabinet portfolios within the executive branch (Arriola and Johnson 2014; Bauer and Tremblay 2011; Jalalzai 2016). This global trend undermines one of democracy’s core principles—political equality—and has widespread implications for both the policy-making process and citizens’ support for government (Holman et al. 2011; 2016; Liu and Banaszak 2017). This project examines the causes and consequences of women’s exclusion from three of the most powerful cabinet portfolios: defense, interior/home affairs, and foreign affairs ministries. These prestigious positions have direct access to the chief executive and unparalleled policy influence. It is thus critically important to explain when, why, and how women break through the male-dominated status quo to access these posts, as well as to understand how women’s inclusion shapes policies that are central to the functioning of the state—e.g., security, human rights, trade—and affects citizens’ perceptions of government. The findings from this research have clear consequences for equality, democracy, public diplomacy, and representation. Our central claim is that women’s presence in political office shapes, and is shaped by, beliefs about the policy responsibilities of the position. Although each of the three portfolios studied has a distinct set of responsibilities, they share a focus on security, particularly protecting the state from domestic and international threats. Security, in turn, is often associated with masculinity. Our first set of hypotheses posits that women gain access to the inner cabinet when the portfolios’ focus expands beyond the traditionally masculine policy agenda to emphasize issues such as peacekeeping and human rights. Our second set of hypotheses suggests that male and female ministers’ policy priorities are largely explained by the conditions that bring women into (or keep them out of) office, rather than innate gender differences. At the same time, we expect that women’s presence promotes gender-equality policy. We test these two sets of hypotheses with cross-national analyses, coupled with in-depth case studies. Our third series of hypotheses proposes that women’s inclusion redefines citizens’ beliefs about the aims and prestige of these positions and informs their levels of trust and confidence in the minister, the ministry, and the state. To investigate these claims, we leverage survey experiments in four countries to examine citizens’ perceptions of women’s inclusion in traditionally masculine posts. Our research thus offers both the first global study of women in the inner cabinet and a broader framework for assessing the causes and consequences of women’s access to male-dominated posts in other realms of society.
Effective start/end date7/1/206/30/24


  • National Science Foundation: $259,034.00


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