Women Deserve a Fair Fight on the Campaign Trail and at Work

For the first time in American history a woman is the candidate of a major party, but it's clear that in politics women aren't playing on a level field. Gender's significant role on the campaign trail isn't an exception to the rule, it's a reflection of what many women face in the workplace.

During President Obama's speech at the DNC this year, he said, "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill [Clinton], nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America." Hillary Clinton's experience - senator of New York, Secretary Of State - is absolutely qualifying. On the other hand, Clinton has plenty of policies and other scandals of various degree which are open to valid questioning, so why are her looks and wardrobe scrutinized in ways men's aren't?

Whatever the answer, gender bias has real impact. According to a recent study on gender differences in views about women and leadership, key findings showed why more women haven't been elected for political leadership. 73 percent of women believe men have a higher chance to run for office, while women agree that the quality of life for women would improve if there were more women leaders - only 19 percent of men agreed. The study also showed that 47 percent of women said they are held to higher standards than men, compared to 28 percent of men who agreed.

It must be said that gender bias is a bipartisan phenomenon. Take a look at the 2008, which was notable for two women competing for the highest offices in the nation. Democrat Clinton was criticized for her lack of femininity, while Republican Sarah Palin was frequently portrayed as a sex object. This year, Republican primary candidate Carly Fiorina had her looks criticized by the current nominee of her own party.

Media portrayals echo these superficial critiques. According to U.S. News, women complain that news coverage goes overboard on how they call out women, focusing on their appearance and personality. In a recent media analysis, Clinton received more negative coverage and "an unfair 'level of scrutiny'" from larger news outlets because she is a woman.

Women in the workplace who aren't running for national office also face the same pressure to balance femininity with strength. They have to fight for issues like equal pay, promotions and paid parental leave. But appear too tough, and a women can face penalties that a man with the same style wouldn't. This double standard has been an obstacle for many women who strive for any type of leadership role.

That's unfortunate, as a sure way to grow America's economy is to bridge the gender gap and hire more women. As a report in CNN Money states, "U.S. could grow the economy by an extra $2.1 trillion in gross domestic product over the next decade if the private sector, policy makers and non-profits make more of a concerted effort to narrow the gender gap at work."

In the Public Relations industry where I work, I see gender issues playing a big role. PR agencies are mostly staffed by women, but the leadership roles are dominated by men. According to a 2015 statistic about "The Women's Leadership Gap," there are more women than men in the U.S. Women earn 47 percent of all law degrees and 48 percent of all medical degrees. Yet although women hold almost 52 percent of professional jobs, only 2 percent of them are CEOs.

This year the Rockefeller Foundation released a report that shows Americans have noticed this disparity, and they aren't happy about it. According to the report, 9 out of 10 people say that men and women are equally qualified to run businesses, but only one-third of Americans say that their company prioritizes having women in leadership positions.

By elevating more women to leadership roles we can create the role models that are so important to inspiring younger women in the workplace. Increasing women in leadership roles will help improve the work environment, by tightening the wage gap and diversifying the workforce.

President Obama's impact on today's youth presents a comparable example. The children that have grown up under eight years of Obama take it for granted that the President can be African-American. The hope is that it will become commonplace for young women and girls to see female candidates run for president and women hold executive roles in the workplace.

The fact that a female nominee could be our next president is a huge milestone for this country. By treating women fairly, in politics and at the office, we can make gender equality a reality.

Follow Jennifer Risi on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JenRisi

David Rosenthal and Conway Wilcox contributed to this article.