Related: Civil & Human Rights, Education, Social Issues, Students, Women

Stuck on 18%


I go to lots of meetings with people who hold institutional leadership positions like mine — university presidents, corporate ceo’s, members of boards of directors, top-level executives and entrepreneurs.   It’s obvious, observing these rooms, that women remain a distinct minority in executive leadership and corporate governance.  It’s also obvious that the small group of elite women who have successfully integrated these once-all-male bastions are extraordinarily talented, almost always graceful while being very tough underneath their carefully composed pleasant exteriors, and usually very eager to downplay any discussion of gender differences.

On one of the several boards on which I sit, a remarkable woman has become the chief executive officer for the first time in the company’s history.   At our last board meeting, members commented very favorably on her more inclusive and open approach to discussion and problem-solving, traits that women often manifest in leadership positions.  The men who dominate the board are very proud of her and eagerly supportive, and yet, sometimes, the support sounds paternalistic, at once, sharper in criticism and more protective in direction, not unlike the guidance of a proud papa.

These issues come to mind because, last week, the White House Project on Women published their most recent study on women in leadership positions, and the results, while not surprising, remain disappointing.   Women account for, on average, 18% of the top leaders in ten of the most prominent industries studied:  academia, business, film, journalism, law, military, nonprofit, politics, religion, sports.    While the study reveals that the general public say that they can accept women leaders by a very large majority, women’s actual participation in significant numbers in powerful leadership positions remains a relatively scarce commodity.

You can download and read the full report:  click on Benchmarking Women’s Leadership.

Marie C. Wilson, founder and president of the White House Project on Women, wrote about this report in the “On Leadership” blog for the Washington Post. Her remarks echo the report’s call for renewed attention to improving gender balance in executive suites and board rooms.   Sadly but predictably, the “comments” section of the online article includes numerous ignorant, sexist and downright vile attacks on women generally and specific women leaders.   One of the more unfortunate consequences of online journalism’s highly participatory community is that extreme views now have entered mainstream outlets, giving even hate-filled rants more credence than is their due.   If anyone doubts the continued presence of a virulent misogyny in this culture, just read some of the comments.

However, bright spots continue to illuminate the leadership landscape giving hope and inspiration to the rising generations.   Last Monday evening, four terrific Trinity students attended the Women’s Forum of Washington, a group of women executives who come together frequently to discuss the challenges we face.   The Women’s Forum wanted to hear from the rising generation of college women, and our Trinity Women inspired and amazed them all through the evening.   Many thanks to Sydney Cross, Kamillah Matthews, Jaime Temple and Lorin Meeks-Harris for being such fantastic representatives of Trinity leadership!   These students offered a great deal of hope and affirmation to all of the women leaders present.   While women continue to face many challenges in the workplace and public arena, the strength, smarts and perseverance of Trinity Women continues to push the glass ceiling back a few centimeters every day!

What do you think about women’s leadership opportunities today?   Send me your comments by clicking on the “comments” link below…

Follow me on Twitter @TrinityPrez…

Check out “On Success” a Washington Post blog that features many local leaders…. including yours truly offering twice-weekly thoughts on what makes people successful….

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One Response to Stuck on 18%

  1. Mason Davenport says:

    Last night, I went to see a production of “As You Like It” presented by the Shakespeare Theater Company, and I had a moment of clarity about this exact issue that I’d like to share while you have brought it up.

    In case you are not familiar, “As You Like It” has a female lead, Rosalind. Like many Shakespearean works, it is loaded with commentary on gender differences, particularly the role of women.

    In modern plays (generally, but not always), Rosalind is played by a woman who dresses as a man during the play. Of course in Elizabethan times, she would have been played by a man dressed a woman, who then presents as a woman dressed as a man, who then reveals him(her)self to be a woman. So, while is unlikely that Shakespeare meant for his audience to read the mockery by Rosalind/Ganymede the way a modern audience might, modern directors can very easily present the play from a feminist perspective.

    Now, the point of the whole story and why your blog is so interesting to me today:

    After three hours of a female-directed play that I viewed as humorously stereotyping the negative qualities of women in order to highlight all the reasons why women are the superior sex (yes, I said it), I ended up at the coat check in front of one of the theater’s board members. He was talking about how wonderful it has been to be on the board and as we passed the part of the wall with all the board members’ names, he pointed out his and his wife’s names. As I looked at that part of the wall, the majority of names were male, and of the female names, most were attached to a male’s as if an afterthought.

    That wall was a very visual example of how women (and other minorities, for that matter) still have such a mountain to climb in order to have an influence on the collective consciousness. Sometimes it is the little things, like the juxtaposition of that particular play with that particular wall (ok, maybe that is not so “little”), that make truth all the more real.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: