Making history (belatedly)
Virginia, sometimes better known for its history than anything else, is poised to make more of it this November.
There will be two female candidates on this year’s ballot for lieutenant governor. It has been nearly three decades since Mary Sue Terry served as Virginia’s attorney general from 1986 to 1993. Heretofore, Terry has been the only woman to hold statewide elective office in Virginia.
On the face of it, that’s a pretty imbalanced record. While the numbers in other places also remain unequal, there are numerous states where women have served as governors or held other statewide elective offices. Thirty states have elected a woman as governor at some point in their history. Eight states currently have a woman serving a governor. Currently, the U.S. Senate includes 24 women among its 100 senators.
Here’s how history will be made in this November’s Virginia elections: Unlike Terry, who is white, both major party candidates for Virginia lieutenant governor in 2021 are women of color.
In May, the Republican Party of Virginia held an “unassembled convention” at 39 drive-thru locations across Virginia, selecting Glenn Youngkin as the GOP candidate for governor; former state Del. Winsome Sears for lieutenant governor; and Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, for attorney general.
In June, state Democrats held a more traditional primary, selecting Terry McAuliffe as their candidate for governor; Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William County, to run for lieutenant governor; and incumbent Mark Herring to stand for a third term as attorney general.
In fairness, this is probably the most diverse set of candidates the two major parties have ever assembled. In addition to Sears, who was the first Black Republican woman elected to the House of Delegates, and Ayala, who is of Afro-Latina, Irish and Lebanese descent, Miyares comes from a family who fled from Cuba in 1965.
Nevertheless, the top of the ticket continues to be a bastion for white males, the only previous exceptions being former Gov. Doug Wilder, who was elected as Virginia’s first (and the nation’s first) Black governor in 1989, and Terry, who ran unsuccessfully for governor against George Allen in 1993.
That’s not to say that female candidates didn’t show up for the 2020 convention and primary. State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield County, competed unsuccess-fully for the Republican gubernatorial nomination against three men. And two women — state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy — were among the five candidates vying for governor in this year’s Democratic state primary.
Outside of politics, when it comes to business, progress on gender diversity has been slow but steady. Our nation has come a long way from the World War II days of Rosie the Riveter entering the workforce to replace men fighting overseas, but that was nearly 80 years ago.
As of Jan. 1, women today hold 30% of CEO positions in the S&P 500. According to a May report by The Associated Press and Equilar Inc., only 16 of the 342 top-paid CEOs last year were women. On the other hand, these women executives earned $13.6 million in median compensation for 2020 — about $1 million more than the median pay earned by their 326 male counterparts. While still clearly underrepresented in C-suite positions, women may be doing a better job than their male counterparts. Or at least their boards appear to think that.
In planning this month’s cover story, our inaugural Virginia Business Women in Leadership Awards (see Page 20), we celebrate many examples of women who are guiding their organizations to success, setting the pace for growth and mentoring new leaders within the ranks of some of Virginia’s most admired companies.
As for the 2021 lieutenant governor’s race, Virginia’s poor, 400-plus-year record on diversity, equity and inclusion can only benefit from increased racial and gender diversity. May the best woman win.