The topic of women in leadership is one that is of great interest to me. Recently, it seems that this topic is also of interest to the entire online community, with discussions and debates related to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and the launch of the online community, leanin.org. In 2010, the COO of Facebook gave a TEDTalk on the topic, why we have too few women leaders. Since then, she has continued to bring attention to the disparity between men and women in the workplace and actively works to encourage women to pursue their goals.
Why is the topic of women in leadership important? Women, although they make up over 50% of college graduates, are not represented to nearly that degree in top leadership roles in any industry. Consider, for example, that less than 25 of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women. Currently, fewer than 20% of the seats in the United States Congress are held by women. This means that women do not participate equally in the decisions that affect them.
I attended an all-women’s college that was fully supportive of a woman’s ability to achieve success. I guess I thought I would experience the same type of environment after leaving college. For that reason, I never really thought about the differences between men and women in the workplace until I found out – years after the fact – that I was paid significantly less for a position than a male colleague in a position with the same title and similar job description who was hired at the same time as me. The difference? When he received his job offer, he demanded a higher salary. When I received my job offer, I was thankful to be getting the job. I didn’t know then that, on average, a woman earns about 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes. I also didn’t know that it is common for women to undervalue their own skills and experiences, while men are naturally confident in their abilities.
I believe change needs to happen on a variety of fronts, but one thing I care very strongly about is providing girls and young women the opportunities, experiences, and support they need to develop the essential skills – and the confidence – necessary for leadership while they are young. This requires us to change the ways we communicate with girls about their role in society, reevaluate the (sometimes unintentional) lessons we teach young women about appropriate female behavior, and go out of our way to create supportive environments in which girls and young women are encouraged to assume increasingly challenging leadership roles. It will take conscious and continued effort, but one day we will see women represented equally in executive leadership roles in every industry, and these women will know they deserve to be at the top.
Jene Kapela, Ed.D.
You can contact Jene at firstname.lastname@example.org.