More women in office could help heal rifts

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Hillary Clinton this month as President Obama endorsed her campaign to become the nation's first female president.

I'm looking forward to seeing Hillary Clinton make history when she's nominated for president this week at the Democratic National Convention. And I'm excited about the prospect of a Clinton presidency.

Not just because I think Donald Trump is the wrong man for the job. But because Democrats and Republicans hate each other too much right now to come together - in Congress or in the town square.

I think the impact of a female administration could get us playing nice again.

But first things first. Just how politically polarized are we?

For the first time in surveys dating to 1992, majorities in both parties express "very unfavorable views of the other party," according to a Pew poll in June of partisanship and political animosity (try saying that five times fast).

We're really scared, too, with majorities in both parties saying the other party makes them afraid.

You could feel the vitriol during last week's Republican National Convention. It'll be just as thick this week as the Dems host their own dog-and-donkey show in Philly.

It's trickling down from party leaders and bubbling up from the masses: the haves and have-nots. The religious right and secular left. The gun-rights and gun-control advocates. The pro- and anti-choicers. Born-and-bred Americans and brand-new immigrants.

We inflame the divide through social media that rewards our knee-jerk rants with likes and shares, retweets and favorites. It's as though we've all forgotten what our parents (should have) taught us - to use our grown-up words when we disagree, to fight fair, that it's better to get some of what we want for the sake of mutual civility than everything we want at the expense of mutual respect.

Here's where more women in office - from the White House on down - would bring some much-needed sanity to our partisan comportment.

Case in point: In 2013, a tantrum-throwing, male-dominated Senate shut down the federal government for two weeks rather than work out partisan differences over the budget. The standoff ended only when bipartisan female senators led a compromise that brought everyone back to the table.

"Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily by women in the Senate," Republican Sen. John McCain told the Huffington Post after a bipartisan deal was announced.

Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor also had a hallelujah moment as he watched the women negotiate.

"The truth is, women in the Senate is a good thing," he told Huffington, referring to the fact that women make up 20 percent of its 100-member body. "We're all just glad they allowed us to tag along so we could see how it's done."

This and other eye-opening tales are chronicled by Jay Newton-Small in her new book, Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works. Newton-Small writes that when women make up between 20 percent and 30 percent of any organization - whether it's the legislature, a Navy ship, or a corporate board - they fundamentally improve its culture.

"The Navy found long ago that putting only a handful of women on a ship created misery for everyone involved," writes Newton-Small, a Time reporter who covers the Beltway. "Trial and study found that 20 percent was the magic number, with a mix of officers and enlisted, at which gender issues disappeared and people began working as teams."

And studies show that including more women at the executive level is good for bottom lines, Newton-Small says. For example, "Companies with more women on boards earned higher profits, took fewer crazy risks, restated their earnings less often, and were better at dealing with crises."

That's because women, other studies show, think and act differently than men do. Not better; differently.

Generally (there are always outliers), women listen more than men do and grandstand less. They seek common ground more than they fortify their own camps. They build relationships more than they build fiefdoms.

The goodwill these behaviors generate allows women to see those in opposing political parties, for example, as more than the sum of their disagreeable viewpoints. And that makes them awesome collaborators.

"In the theory of critical mass," writes Newton-Small, "the sheer number of women matters, but so, too, do critical actors, those who first break through and pull up the rest."

If elected, Clinton promises to do just that, appointing a cabinet that's half female.

"I am going to have a cabinet that looks like America," she said at an MSNBC town hall meeting.

(She sounded like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was asked last year why half of his cabinet appointees were women. He smiled and answered, "Because it's 2015.")

More women in office could help Beltway leaders figure out how to run the country together instead of running in opposite directions when things get tough.

For too long, those leaders have been mostly male. But we're living in complicated, fractious times, facing urgent issues such as national security, immigration, entitlements, infrastructure, and education.

The times require collaboration from both sides of the aisle. That's why we need more women to run for office and add their collaborative skills to the mix. A female president could inspire more of them to give it a go.

And that could help more Dems and Republicans work harder for agreement. The process requires grinding, grown-up work by thoughtful, respectful leaders who are up to the challenge of compromise.

Compromise is indeed a challenge, especially for too many prideful men who enter politics.

For women?

We know all about compromise. It's all we've been doing since the gates of Eden closed behind us eons ago. By now, it's in our genes.

polaner@phillynews.com

215-854-2957@RonniePhilly

ph.ly/RonnieBlog