Just in time for freshmen elections, a new student group at Penn is looking to advance the role of females in leadership positions across campus.
Founded over the summer, the Women’s Political League is dedicated to creating opportunities for women to get more involved in politics and leadership roles at Penn. The group hopes these opportunities will translate into greater numbers of women who graduate from Penn with an interest in pursuing leadership positions in politics and business.
College junior Danielle Marryshow, president of the WPL, explained that the organization is not only trying to cultivate the next generation of female leaders, but also inform people about the ever-present shortage of women in leadership positions nationwide.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women hold just 16.8 percent of U.S. Congressional seats.
“Working for the National Women’s Political Caucus, I realized how bleak the situation is on the federal level,” Marryshow said. “The only way to affect real change is to start on the level of Penn’s campus.”
Although the WPL is a new organization at Penn, the issue of female leadership has been at the center of campus debate for some time.
Last February, College sophomore and 2015 Class Board President Ariel Koren wrote an opinion column in The Daily Pennsylvanian about her perceptions of female leadership at the University.
“The best defense against [the] ‘female leadership issue’ is to just keep doing our thing,” Koren said in the column. “Each and every Penn woman is doing excellent work here.”
While Koren’s column painted a largely optimistic picture of the current state of affairs at Penn, some do not share those opinions to the same degree.
“The higher you get up, the fewer women you find,” said College senior Isabel Friedman, president of Penn Political Coalition. “There’s still a lot of structural inequity that contributes to fewer women in leadership, and we have to find organizations that use innovative things to attract really smart women and keep them there.”
College senior and Student Activities Council Chair Melissa Roberts has had a unique opportunity to view student leadership as it pertains to women.
“It’s definitely harder being a woman leader on campus than being a male leader on campus,” Roberts said. “I didn’t have a lot of strong female mentors going into leadership, and having them would have been helpful.”
Of the 24 students members of the Undergraduate Assembly, just six are female. The UA’s five-student executive board only features one female — College sophomore and Secretary Joyce Kim.
College senior and Asian Pacific Student Coalition Chair Michelle Leong believes these numbers could be discouraging for women who may consider applying for leadership positions.
“Women have made strides, but there’s definitely not equal representation, especially if you look at the history of UA presidents and Class Board presidents,” she said.
In addition to the WPL, other student groups on campus — such as the Panhellenic Council — have recently aimed to help women advance.
Panhel President and College senior Jill Wang agreed that women have made strides, but believes they “still struggle to maintain a powerful image … As a woman, you have to be more assertive than a man because your opinion gets lost and your voice isn’t heard.”
In order to combat this perception, Panhel is experimenting with various programming, including an initiative called “Pump it Up with Panhel.”
“It’s programing that’s centered on mental and bodily health and women’s empowerment,” Wang said.
Taken together, programs like this and WPL will aim to achieve their goals largely through mentoring and collaborative work.
“I don’t know if it’s conditioning or how women have grown up, but I think a lot of mentoring is one of the key points,” Kim said. “I think having Women’s Political League will help get that started.”