Comment | Wine, pizza and shutdown

The U.S Government shutdown, dubbed the ‘horrifying circus’, was last week brought to a close, which meant thousands of civil servants could finally return to work. The conflicts of the past month are, for now, resolved, and a certain faction within the Senate has emerged triumphant. During the course of the seventeen-day shutdown, several talks were orchestrated by the President, Speaker John Boehner and leaders of the Senate, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. With neither side willing to compromise, the talks were fruitless, and focused instead on placing blame and exaggerating partisanship.

Following this string of unsuccessful meetings, a group of female Senators met for friendly discussions over pizza and wine. The next day, the proposal to end the shutdown passed through both Chambers of Congress. As it turned out, the key to success was basic compromise. The dinner discussions had established a solution that attracted more and more Senators, paving the way to genuine talks between the leaders of government. With the debt ceiling extended and the government back in action, many Congressmen admitted that the women had played a crucial role. John McCain, 2008 Presidential candidate, declared, “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily from women in the Senate.”

Despite the polarisation of the American political parties, the twenty women who sit in the Senate meet fairly frequently. After their success, Senator Amy Klobuchar commented that, “The women are an incredibly positive force because we like each other. We work together well, and look for common ground.” The effectiveness of these regular meetings has been noted by the White House, and in April the group were invited to dine with the President. TIME magazine discloses that Senator Barbara Boxer observed that only a hundred years ago, they would have been gathering outside Capitol Hill to demand the vote for women. Obama allegedly remarked, “a hundred years ago, I’d have been serving you.”

The proceedings in the U.S have once again brought the important issue of women in business into focus. Only a fifth of Senators in the U.S are women, and over on our side of the pond, the statistics are no better. Shamefully, David Cameron’s ‘top team’ of twenty two includes only four women. Academic Pat Heim argues that the behaviour of men in the workplace is vastly different to that of women. Heim maintains that where men thrive off conflict, women pursue collaboration, and this was certainly evident in the American shutdown. The 2011 Davies Report called for more women in the boardroom after research exposed that over half of the top companies in Britain had an all-male executive. That this issue had to be forced upon businesses speaks volumes, and does not necessarily guarantee a commitment to change. If true equality is to be realised, the percentage of women in leadership roles must increase dramatically.

Ed Miliband might be an object of ridicule, but we have to congratulate him on his latest announcement that Labour’s shadow cabinet is to be fifty percent female. At least he’s getting something right.

Rebecca Gray

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