Women in leadership: Progress has slowed, so rev up to close the gap
Women made considerable progress in the U.S. during the last decades of the 20th century, but women’s advancement in the leadership pipeline has stalled.
Women make up approximately 51 percent of the U.S. population and they hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs; however, in leadership positions, women lag substantially behind men. Women are only 25 percent of executive- and senior-level officials and managers, hold only 19 percent of board seats and are only 4.6 percent of CEOs.
Now is not the time to slow down; more work needs to be done to close the leadership gap.
American women still encounter considerable barriers to reaching their full potential. Many high-achieving, affluent women are leaving their demanding jobs to spend more time at home, or at least looking for positions that offer more flexibility.
Stereotypes and perceptions remain prevalent. Many perceive the shortage of women in leadership roles as them not wanting those positions or professions. Also, American culture has had a longstanding assumption the “ideal worker” is someone that’s all work, with no competing demands. This has caused many employees, mostly women, with care-giving responsibilities to remain in lower-level positions. With a 40-hour-a-week job in some companies considered to be part-time these days, many professional women are marginalized when they set aside time for life outside the office.
Still, other barriers are structural. There is a shortage of role models for women who seek to move up through the ranks, which means they lack mentors and opportunities in male-heavy organizations to develop the sorts of social relationships for mentorship, board appointments or simple promotions. These barriers in how we work have served to marginalize women, pushing them down or out of the workplace in the very era in which they are expected to thrive. There is hope for a better tomorrow, but it will take a village. We, as women leaders, can do our part by helping to inspire and equip the next generation for advancement.
As the wife of Olivet College President Steven M. Corey, I get the privilege of traveling and visiting with Olivet alumni and friends of the college. I run into many successful women who tell me how concerned they are with women’s plight for advancement, yet they are equally as passionate about inspiring the next generation to grow beyond where we are today. I also run into young women who are contemplating what their future careers and family life will look like. I can’t help but wonder, what do these young women see when they close their eyes and picture what a CEO looks like? Is it a woman? Or do they typically see men?
Our jobs as women are to inspire the next generation to dream as big as they want to dream. Whether they want to become the next Fortune 500 CEO, a small business owner, a partner at a prestigious law firm or a stay-at-home mom, we should empower them to advance in their careers and in life. If we are going to continue to narrow the leadership gap, we need to fill the pipeline with highly skilled women leaders. This will require us, as leaders, to set the example.
Olivet College recognizes that in order to inspire our female students to be exceptional leaders, we must provide them with continuous and meaningful opportunities to learn and grow. Therefore, I’m chairing the college’s presidential women’s leadership initiative. I’ve engaged some of the most inspiring women leaders around the state of Michigan to serve on the Women’s Leadership Initiative Advisory Council. Our first event, “Cultivating Women Leaders: Embracing Our Inner Strength” is scheduled for March 3 and will kick off the Women’s Leadership Initiative. Our long-term goals are to build on a successful event by potentially expanding and growing this effort into a sustaining yearlong women’s leadership program, serving women and girls from middle school through working professionals. We can close the leadership gap one leader at a time.
Traci Corey is the chair of Olivet College’s Presidential Women’s Leadership Initiative.