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!