#NWArkCares November: Women Who Lead

I’m taking a break from Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) today to post about a matter I deeply believe in, women in leadership. This month, #NWArkCares, a group of bloggers in Northwest Arkansas, is focusing on women in politics specifically, but also women as leaders. I wanted to add my own perspective into the mix before November ends.

My earliest memories of women in leadership roles all involve teachers. From my first teachers in preschool, all the way through high school, college and beyond, women have strong influential roles in the classroom. I’ll never forget learning how to spell my middle name with Mrs. Matthias, the challenges of Mrs. T.C.’s classroom, how to deliver a bang-up speech from Mrs. James, or the cultivating the foundation for my writing career in Mrs. Potts, Williams and Smith’s classrooms. My education wouldn’t be the same without them and I’m grateful for the roles they played in helping me pursue my dreams.

In college, I played soccer under Janet Rayfield, a leader in the sports arena if there ever was one. Janet played for the University of North Carolina when women’s soccer was just beginning to come into its own as a sport, and enjoyed great success as a player, helping lead the team to a championship. I met her as the head coach of the University of Arkansas’ women’s soccer team. When you’re in a collegiate sports atmosphere, your coach and teammates are the biggest influencers in your life. Fortunately for me, I played for a coach who believes in teaching her athletes how to play the sport better and how to grow in who they are as people. Even though my time in college athletics was challenging, it helped shape who I am today. I wouldn’t trade that time at all, and I’m grateful to Janet for the impact she had on my life.

When I moved to Yemen, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the women who lived there. I knew most of the women had to cover themselves completely in headscarves and long black baltos. Perhaps with this covering, I expected submissive women who let men steamroll over their thoughts and opinions. In the spring of 2004, I got to teach an all woman class of English language learners, and I discovered these ladies were so much more than beautifully made up eyes peering out from a veil. We would bar the door with a couple of desks and the ladies, safe in the knowledge that no man would enter without a battle with those desks, would throw off veils, scarves and robes.

We got down to the business of language learning with discussions on Oprah, Hillary Clinton, and other strong female role models for these women who were forced into a daily outward sign of submission, but whose hearts and minds were strongly influencing their families, friends, and me. We spoke of ways to change Yemen, to give women better education, and to help those in need. I coveted this time with them, and they will never know how much they changed my life. When I think of women leaders, I often think of these women, waiting in the wings for a chance to lead that may never come. I hope, for the sake of Yemen, that it does. Given the chance, I’m confident these women could transform their country and the world.

As a writer, I’d be remiss not to mention the authors who have influenced me deeply, and the list is long. Madeleine L’Engle taught me that faith and science can go together. Katherine Paterson’s books always challenged me to think deeply. Susan Cooper’s books enthralled me with their imaginative storylines and questions of light and darkness, good and evil. Kate di Camillo continues to do the same. Jacqueline Woodson’s stories have opened my eyes to countless ideas on inequality,  racism, love, and being who you really are in a complicated world. Naomi Shihab Nye gives me hope that one day soon those from the Middle East will be treated with the respect and kindness they deserve. Julia Alvarez has captured my heart since college and while her books tackle broad subject matters, the idea of standing up for what you believe in permeates her work. I could go on, but this post is getting long.

Clearly, women have been powerful influencers in my life, and I haven’t even begun to mention countless friends, sisters, mother and grandmothers. Now consider the following excerpt from a fact sheet by Judith Warner for the Center for American Progress published March 7, 2014.

“Women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, but only 14.6 percent of   executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.

Women control 80 percent of consumer spending in the United States, but they are only 3 percent of creative directors in advertising.

Their image onscreen is still created, overwhelmingly, by men. Women accounted for    just 16 percent of all the directors, executive producers, producers, writers,    cinematographers, and editors who worked on the top-grossing 250 domestic films of  2013, and were just 28 percent of all offscreen talent on broadcast television programs  during the 2012-13 primetime season.

When, however, there are more women behind the camera or at the editor’s desk, the    representation of women onscreen is better: Films written or directed by women      consistently feature a higher percentage of female characters with speaking roles.

The representation of women of color in corporate leadership roles is worse still. Women of color are 36.3 percent of our nation’s female population and approximately 18 percent  of the entire U.S. population. They make up about one-third of the female workforce.

        And yet…

Women of color occupy only 11.9 percent of managerial and professional positions. And  of those women, 5.3 percent are African American, 2.7 percent are Asian American, and 3.9 percent are Latina.

Women of color hold only 3.2 percent of the board seats of Fortune 500 companies.

More than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies have no women of color as           board directors at all.

 In recent election cycles, the percentage of female candidates has essentially      plateaued. In the decade leading up to 2012, the number of women elected to Congress remained basically flat, and the number of women in state legislatures actually decreased.

Women today hold only 18.5 percent of congressional seats, and they are just 20 percent of U.S. senators.

They hold only 24.2 percent of state legislature seats.

They are only 10 percent of governors.

Only 12 percent of the mayors of the 100 largest American cities are women.

On average, women are outnumbered 2-to-1 by men as state-level cabinet appointees.

Women of color represent only 4.5 percent of the total members of Congress.

Women of color make up 4 percent of governors, 5 percent of state legislators, and        2 percent of the mayors of the 100 largest American cities.

        Although women have outnumbered men on college campuses since 1988, they have         earned at least a third of law degrees since 1980, were fully a third of medical school             students by 1990, and, since 2002, have outnumbered men in earning undergraduate           business degrees since 2002. They have not moved up to positions of prominence and         power in America at anywhere near the rate that should have followed.

In a broad range of fields, their presence in top leadership positions—as equity law       partners, medical school deans, and corporate executive officers—remains stuck at a     mere 10 percent to 20 percent. Their “share of voice”—the average proportion of their   representation on op-ed pages and corporate boards, as TV pundits, and in Congress—is just 15 percent.

In fact, it’s now estimated that, at the current rate of change, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in our country.”

2085? Really? Surely we can change that. Think of the women in your life who have influenced you and have been leaders, and how you can encourage women to lead in ALL areas. Visit #nwarkcares on social media for blog posts all month on this topic and learn what else you can do to help.

Visit https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/report/2014/03/07/85457/fact-sheet-the-womens-leadership-gap/ for the full fact sheet I’ve quoted here.




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