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Pick an industry and you’ll likely find women who are underrepresented in leadership and underpaid, regardless of their performance.

The Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, 2013 study is complete, marking the first time that women in leadership roles across 14 sectors were analyzed. These sectors included, among others, academia, entertainment, religion, sports and business.  Unfortunately, wherever reviewerslooked they came to the same conclusion. Click here to read the study.

As an educator and Dean of Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver, I want to use this data to inspire productive and meaningful conversations about creating change across all sectors. We can use it to teach leadership in the classroom. It can be shared with the public. It should be shouted from the rooftops.  It should be used as intelligence for helping change the landscape of positional leadership in this country.

Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, we may use the data in this study as a historical lesson for future generations.

At Colorado Women’s College, women’s thought leadership is elevated in the classroom, through review, discussion and key partnerships and alliances with those who are committed to examining the complexity of leadership and areas of emerging influence for women. It’s within this innovative learning environment that we educate women in the classroom every day about leadership.  Yet, as nation, we still have not made as much progress in this area as we potentially could have.

When women lead, great things happen, and our data makes a strong case for that. When women leaders are present in the upper echelons of companies and organizations like those in our study,revenue is greater, sales are increased, impact and reach are more expansive and industry distinctions are more prolific. It is astounding in today’s world of global business and competition, greater focus on earnings growth and pressures on C-level executives to deliver results, that more women – often the higher performing leaders – are underrepresented in positions of power and influence.

The time has come for women and men to share leadership for the sake of our families, our organizations and the future success of our nation. I believe that this study will assist in prompting conversation, backed by significant data, to create greater capacity for women’s leadership across the sectors.

I am part of a national research study looking at college and university presidents-who happen to be women-and any number of factors associated with their capacities to secure presidencies and keep them. Since there are still only 23% of the college and university presidencies occupied by women (yes, that means 77% of the college and university presidents are men), and that percentage of women presidents has not changed in over 10 years, well, some of us (including me) think that lack of women in the senior role is a problem.  I am intrigued by the answers I am getting to the questions our research team is asking, and one of those questions forms the basis for this blog today.

One of the questions of the study essentially asks about a stereotype that exists in our society-that women are not in senior leadership roles because they choose to limit their own advancement.  I am continually struck by the answers given to this question, and it is this question that I want us to ponder-is it a choice? As you work with 18-22 year old women as student affairs practitioners, I am sure you listen carefully to what our women students are saying, and how they are viewing their choices as they move from an undergraduate education into the wider world. In this year, the 40th anniversary of Title IX, I am sure the possibilities for our women students seem limitless. Yet that burning question of choice rears up soon after graduation, for as women’s capacity for success and advancement increases, the time she has for “choosing” to have children begins to decrease. Is this really a fair choice? And why does the responsibility for that “choice” still remain (predominantly) the responsibility of women?

As I spoke to a group of sorority sisters the other evening at the University of Denver, I posed this conundrum to them, this question of “is it a choice?” and I asked if they saw things changing for them and the men with whom they engaged. A collective peal of nervous laughter went through the room, and then hands begun to be raised. The women spoke of their parents-moms who had careers, dads who were “stay at home.” One woman recounted that her school teachers continually asked her to bring homework back to her mom and she, with a “stay at home” dad, was confused and thought she’d be in trouble if she didn’t give her homework to her mom and had to ask-”is it okay if I give it to my dad instead?” We talked about the structure of work, still very much predicated on an old industrial model of Monday through Friday, 9 am-5 pm (if one is lucky to have their job limited to those hours), and how work structure needs to be changed in order to facilitate both men and women fully participating in their families.

Another said her male friends are actually excited to think about raising children. Yet, as I look around at my colleagues who are senior leaders, there still are not a lot of ways in which the family/career choice has been easily resolved. Yes, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook tells us we can do it all-but she does it all with the privilege of income that allows her the capacity to have a fabulous career and a fabulous family. I would argue that not all of my contemporaries have had the same options to “have it all” and I ask-will all of our students have the same option? I don’t know the answer to the question I’ve posed-is it a choice? I know that for each and every one of us women leaders in higher education-and in other sectors-the choice is ours to make, with the best set of information and inclinations we have at the time we are choosing. I just wish the “choice” were still not as “black and white,” and that the “choice” was shared by men and women alike. I wish we just didn’t assume that the woman is always the caretaker (like the teacher who asked for the homework to be shared with the mom), and that the man is not engaged in the lives of his children.

I will leave you with three more questions. First, how do you continue to perpetuate stereotypes about the roles of men and women in our society, and how will you increase your awareness to not assume that all women-or all men-are limited by their biology? Second, what will you do to advocate for change that allows all of us to pursue whole lives that don’t force women into the false dichotomy of “choice” between work and family? And finally, I ask you to consider what you need to do now to position yourself for a senior leadership role in higher education?-all the data shows that we need the critical mass of women in deanships, vice presidencies, presidencies, and board roles, so that women can partner with men of good will to see women represented fully in the leadership of our institutions.

I wanted to share an entry that I made this past Friday:

As I write Michelle Jozaitis-or MJ, as we know her-is spending the last day of her trip to Uruguay with her “sister students” after a week that included sessions with the World Bank, IMF, University of Montevideo, and even with members of the Parliament, the First Lady, and Uruguay’s vice president. MJ and her nine “sister students” (as these women are known to one another at the college) are accompanied by the chair of the law and society program and an adjunct faculty member who is a successful entrepreneur in her own right. Upon their return, the anonymous donor who made the students’ travel possible will sit in a room with others to hear their stories and witness how even one week spent in another country will have transformed their educational experience. This is what we want for our students, who, while “nontraditional,” deserve a rich education grounded in a common curriculum with opportunity to engage in another country’s culture, economy, and legal system . . . even if it’s only a week-long program that allows them to keep their jobs and still have an international experience. And while many students enter part-time, commuter programs with the initial thought of simply preparing for a better job, a surprising number of our students find their passion for learning in our “nontraditional” college, wanting, like MJ, to have a series of letters after their name, whether those letters represent a law degree or a doctorate.

It is so rare that women such as MJ get noticed-and I have a college full of MJ’s. Kathryn, I deeply appreciate your outreach to me earlier in the year that resulted in the opportunity for Michelle’s “voice” to be heard through her story written for your readership.

At The Women’s College of the University of Denver our mission is to educate bold leaders, women who will “boldly lead in the communities where they live, work, and engage.” We are proud of Michelle and all of our students, who each and every day navigate multiple identities, including that of being a student and an engaged learner.

With best wishes, Lynn

There are a few things I am wondering about . . .

I just finished taping a segment of “Colorado and Company” on Channel 9 (thanks to Tess Solano and Ling Richardson for joining me!), and I am wondering when TWC will stop being the “best kept secret” . . .

I read last week a guest commentary in the Denver Post entitled ” Will Denver’s next mayor be a woman,” and I am wondering if (and when) that well really happen . . .

I attended a luncheon yesterday for the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund, a TWC-partner organization that serves women in post-conflict northern Uganda by teaching them entrepreneurship through micro-credit and literacy through education, and I am wondering when the time will come that all women and girls are educated and economically self-sufficient . . .

While it may seem that these are disconnected “wonderments” to me they are all connected. The importance of educating women and girls worldwide still seems like a “best kept secret” despite efforts of many (including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton) to hold up this goal for all humankind. And in a cosmopolitan community like Denver to still ask whether it’s next mayor will be a woman . . . well, as I’ve said previously, I work toward the day when we no longer have to say “she is the first woman to . . .”

Having said all that, I am heartened by the fact that slowly but surely, more and more people are learning about TWC and its value to the women in this community. I am heartened by the fact that women are being held up as mayoral candidates. And I am heartened by the fact that organizations like the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund exist to support women in Uganda. It’s all connected.

It’s been awhile since I have written. No excuses. We’re all too busy. I’ve been told I am taking up valuable “real estate” on the college’s home page, so here’s my latest installment . . .

Over the past several weeks I’ve been thinking about women who serve. Our veterans. Our civil servants. Our visionaries.

Our veterans. Several weeks ago Colorado First Lady Jeannie Ritter visited the college—Jeannie is helping us launch a program for recruiting women veterans to the college. The GI Bill—in its latest, very robust form—will pay for a woman vet to attend TWC without any additional cost. Between the GI Bill and the college’s deeply discounted tuition rate, we can educate those who serve. It’s the least we can do for the women who have served our country around the world, and particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our civil servants. Last week I attended The White House Project EPIC awards dinner and met Kiran Badi, the first woman to serve in the Indian Police Service in 1972, retiring three years ago. Kiran is a women’s college graduate (no surprise there!) and ultimately obtained a law degree in the late eighties. A social activist, she instituted many reforms and established two NGOs in the areas of welfare and preventive policing, prison reformation, and child welfare. “Yes Madam, Sir” is a film of Kiran’s life, directed by Australian Megan Donerman, which documents her extraordinary contributions.

Our visionaries. I want to acknowledge the amazing work of Marie C. Wilson, founder and president of The White House Project (TWHP). Marie founded The White House Project to advance women’s leadership, knowing that when women are leading alongside men in all sectors—politics, business, education, law, the media—we will have a truly representative democracy. Marie’s vision and the work of TWHP, particularly in educating us all about the continued leadership gap for women and strategies to solve the gap, make a difference in achieving that representative democracy. TWC is a proud strategic partner of TWHP as we collaborate to advance women leaders.

Our veterans. Our civil servants. Our visionaries. Women making a difference in the lives of many, and making a difference in how we see and understand women’s leadership.

I have a new niece—Alexandra Eva Lynn Gangone—Allie for short—and it is my hope that these women making a difference today will result in Allie have a real opportunity to lead when she is ready. I’m glad that The Women’s College, and its students—and women like Marie Wilson, Kiran Badi, and our veterans—are  part of making Allie’s future, and the future of all of our daughters, granddaughters, nieces—a little brighter by virtue of their service today.

Recently, the staff of the college went through a two day training facilitated by the university’s Center for Multicultural Excellence (CME).  During one part of the training we were asked to hold up a “web” of string about women that was interconnected, and attached to the strings were various cards labeled “joke” or “stereotype” or “television show” or . . . you get the picture. As part of the exercise, each of us had to read the front of the card and the back of the card. It was a sobering exercise, and I felt the weight of the “web” as each of us read the word “joke” and then the joke, read the word “television show” and then the portrayal of women in the show. When we were done, our facilitator slung the “web” over her shoulder and said “here’s what we carry as we move through the world”—the jokes, the assumptions, the media images, the weight of being women.

Gosh, I sound like such a downer! It reminds me of a stereotype about women that we don’t have a sense of humor.  But I have an amazing sense of humor, am even considered very funny by some of my friends (I particularly appreciate a clever pun!), and am known for having a loud and deeply-felt laugh at a good joke. So why am I not laughing these days?

I wrote in a previous blog about the absence of women in the 5280 magazine article on people of power and influence in Denver (and my letter to the editor was published this month with a link on the college’s website) and you should know, up front, that my primary “lens” on the world is seeing where women are—or are not. So I was heartened to read the front page of the Sunday Business section of the February 21 New York Times that featured Ursula M. Burns, the CEO of Xerox, on her efforts to orchestrate cultural change (“she wants its employees to take more initiative and be more fearless and frank with one another”) at Xerox. It’s also worth mentioning that Ms. Burns is African-American, married to a working dad, and together they have two children—a son and a daughter—and she was raised by a single mom who insisted that all of her children receive a college education. Quoting her mom, Ms. Burns says ““You have to learn and you have to be curious,” she would say. “You have to perform at your best. You have to worry about the things you can control. Don’t become the victim.””

But back to my sense of humor—or lack thereof. Did anyone else but me (and my best friend Barb, who called me on the phone throughout the Olympics) notice that the women athletes, regardless of age, were often referred to as “girls” and the men were never “boys”? That announcers actually referred to “catfights” when describing relations between women like some throwback to another era? And why is there men’s and “ladies” figure skating? And yet we saw powerful, athletic, graceful, talented women throughout the entire Olympics, bringing home all levels of medals throughout the competition from traditional arenas of figure skating to newer arenas of ice hockey.

Sidebar—in the February 26 Denver Post there’s a piece called “The Mix,” where it was reported that Paris Hilton, in an ad for Brazilian beer Devassa, is “in a short black dress preening and rubbing a can of beer on herself, to the delight of onlookers watching through her window.” Brazil’s Secretariat for Women’s Affairs, addressing a Brazilian regulations that say women cannot be treated as overtly sensual objects in commercials, notes that “it’s an ad that devalues women—in particular, blond women.” Ah, I imagine that some of you are thinking that the Brazilian Secretariat for Women’s Affairs doesn’t have a sense of humor . . .

When I asked our CME trainer “did you give us the web of jokes, stereotypes, and images of women because we work at The Women’s College” she answered “no—we do this with all of our groups.”

Back in the 1980s I was introduced to the work of Bernice “Bunny” Sandler who coined the phrase “chilly classroom climate.” Bunny’s research honed in on a phenomena—“micro-inequities”—that exist throughout the educational experiences in a woman’s life. One of those inequities, in and of itself, might not make a difference, but all of the little inequities tangled together, like the web of jokes, stereotypes, and images of women that we were asked to hold in our CME training, add up over a lifetime.

I want to follow the advice of Ursula M. Burns’ mother. I want to learn and be curious. I want to perform at my best. I want to worry about the things I can control. I don’t want to be a victim. And I even want to retain—and hone—my sense of humor. I do wonder when the day will come when women will be called women, when catfights are only used to describe a fight between cats, and when beer will be marketed solely on its merits—because to some, it’s actually pleasing to drink. I want to laugh out loud and appreciate a good joke. And I want the day to come when I no longer need my “lens” on the world to notice where women are—or are not—because that lens will no longer be necessary. Until then, it seems I will not settle to being just one of the “girls.”

Lately I’ve been surprised to hear of a disconnect that exists . . . between what most people “believe” is the status of women in leadership, and the reality.

I am teaching a course that looks at the leadership gap for women–although women have achieved educational equity there is a HUGE leadership gap–the White House Project report Benchmarking Women’s Leadership shows that on average, only 18% of the positional leaders across 10 sectors are women. Now that’s a GAP! The data also shows a very small representation of women of color among those senior leadership ranks as well.

Being immersed in the education and advancement of women, I assumed that most women and men know this gap exists. But most people don’t and when informed of the leadership gap, they are shocked. I know this because the students in my class are teaching ME about the disconnect that exists between what most people “believe” is the status of women in leadership, and the reality. I am so grateful to my students for their candor, thoughtful reflection, and proper outrage as they dig into the leadership gap and the reasons it exists!

Some of my students were able to attend the recent panel conversation hosted by The Women’s College, The White House Project, and others to discuss Benchmarking Women’s Leadership. Marie Wilson, the dynamic national leader of The White House Project, moderated a panel of experts including Dr. Lucy Sanders from National Coalition of Women in Technology, Bertha Lynn from Channel 7 News, Reverend Bonita Bock from Wartburg University, and me. Over 140 were in attendance at DU on Tuesday morning as we talked about the White House Project Report. Marie’s goal is to travel throughout the US promoting the report, discussing its findings, and proposing strategies for solutions. Wilson and others, like Ambassador Linda Tarr-Whelan, propose the 30% Solution, a proven “tipping point” for women where real change in how they can exercise leadership can occur.

So what’s the 30% Solution? According to Tarr-Whelan, when 30% of any leadership level consists of women, their ideas, values, and approaches are more fully part of the entire work–they stop being only “women” and start being board members, C-level leaders, vice presidents, presidents, etc.–you get the idea. According to studies, the organizations that have at least 30% women in leadership have stronger business outcomes, more productive government programs, and access to a wider range of thoughts and solutions to the issues of the day.

Look around the places that you work, worship, or volunteer–who’s in the leadership roles? Who isn’t? Consider what you can do to begin to affect WHO is leading so that we are able to take full advantage of the strengths, intellect, and perspectives of women and men. Between Marie Wilson at the national level–and my students at the local level–I expect there will be more women and men talking about the leadership gap and working diligently to close the gap!


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