Summit: Women, Leadership, and the Future
College recently held a day-long summit which aimed to address
the importance of women as leaders in our society and the challenges
women face in achieving gender equality. The venue of the summit
seemed to fit perfectly with Barnard’s reputation as one of the
nation’s top liberal arts colleges for women. It is affiliated
with Columbia University.
Three distinguished panels of prominent women leaders headed the
discussions attracting over 1,000 attendees from the tristate
area. The topics of the panels were: Women and the Public World:
Do Women Leaders Make a Difference?, The Future of Family and
Community: Who Will Do ‘Women’s Work’?, and Women of the World:
Lessons from Abroad.
the panel were distinguished political, business, and educational
leaders such as Former Attorney General Janet Reno, the first
female three-star general Claudia Kennedy, Governor of Massachusetts
Jane Swift, Chief Financial Officer of JPMorgan Chase Dina Dublon,
Professor at Harvard Business School Rosabeth Kanter, President
of Catalyst Sheila Wellington, President of The White House Project
Marie Wilson, Marian Wright Edelman, Founder, Children’s Defense
Fund and many more.
President Judith Shapiro of Barnard College opened the summit
by stating that “We are at historic crossroads in gender relations
where, for the first time in the history of western civilization,
women and men are on the verge of sharing power. If we are to
reach this goal successfully, we need to better understand how
genuine equality will change our businesses, families and communities,
and ensure that the work traditionally done by women does not
become undervalued or abandoned.”
When the panel was asked what they hoped to accomplish by the
summit, Governor Swift stated that she hoped “the world would
come to value the work women do, and value the choices women make.”
Some of the main topics discussed at the Summit were the roles
of women as leaders, the challenges women face in becoming leaders,
and the hardships of maintaining balance between work and home.
All three panels agreed that women have made strides and have
slowly climbed into leadership roles in public affairs and business,
but the road to gender equality is still long and progress is
slow and painstaking. The speakers noted that lack of opportunities
to rise to senior positions in the work place, issues of childcare
and family life, and many forms of gender stereotypes are some
of the major problems women face in our society today.
Kanter stated that “34 years ago, the first woman graduated from
Harvard Business School; today women make up 39 percent of HBS.”
Wellington added that “Women in top positions of Fortune 500 companies
have reached the biggest percentage in history, a whole one percent!
The number of women CEOs in those companies have increased 100
percent from two to four.”
When someone asked “what can we do to promote future women leaders?”,
numerous answers and suggestions were produced from the panel.
However, nearly all members of the panels agreed that only through
people can accomplish or at least get closer to gender equality.
need to empower people,” said Janet Reno, “both men and women
who believe in others, who better the future through education,
love and time. I wouldn’t want a world that didn’t have a Franklin
and Eleanor at the same time.”
When the question of how we’re educating women today was raised,
President Shapiro responded, “At Barnard College, we educate our
women so they understand that they can do anything. We not only
fill them with confidence but also let them know what the barriers
are, what’s out there and what they will be faced with.”
Marie Wilson added that it is just as important to educate men
as well as women. “We need men as our allies, men who will open
opportunities for us at work as well as stay home and take care
of our children. We need not only better education programs in
schools that will promote gender equality, but also have men talk
to men. We need to use culture, such as Hollywood and MTV to portray
men differently. The West Wing changed politics; we need
shows that will change the mentality of men.”
When a question of women’s position in the Middle East was raised,
Professor Kanter replied, “The biggest revenge on the Taliban
would be sending all their women to college!”
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