Gender Equity in the Workforce: A Global Issue

When Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stepped on to the stage in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention this summer, a slick graphic overhead showed the shattering of a glass ceiling. It was a dramatic, showy entrance that underscored the significance of a woman earning the Presidential nomination of a major political party for the first time in American history. But the question remains, is the proverbial glass ceiling actually broken here in the U.S. and abroad?

Unfortunately, the data suggests we still have a ways to go.

Research shows that there is a scarcity of women in leadership roles in the American workplace. Consider these data from the Center for American Progress and the American Association of Colleges and Universities:

Academia: While women are earning almost 60% of undergraduate degrees and 60% of all master’s degrees, women make up only 26% of college and university presidents 34% of senior administrators at research universities, and only 30% of full professors are women.

Financial Services: Despite holding 45% of all jobs in the US&P 500 workplace, women hold only 25% of executive and senior level positions, 19% of board seats, and only 4.6% are CEOs.

High Tech: As of the spring 2014, nearly 47% of the 150 highest earning public companies in Silicon Valley had not one female executive officer.

Legal Profession: Women make up 45% of associate positions, but only 20% of partners and 17% of equity partners.

The lack of seniority is a root cause of what we see in pay equity as well. There is currently a pay gap for women in all 50 states, and as of 2014 American women were paid 79% of what men were paid. While that represents a 20% gain since 1974, at the current rate the pay gap will not be closed for another 100 years (source:

There are many exceptional organizations and talented people in America dedicated to closing the wage gap and the gender equality gap in the workplace and while we need only to look to November’s ballot box to find real progress in this struggle, outside our borders there is also much work to be done.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), there exists “a marked lack of correlation between getting more women in education and their ability to earn a living particularly through skilled or leadership roles. While women make up the majority of enrolled university students in 97 countries, they comprise the majority of skilled roles in only 68, and in far fewer--four countries--do they hold the majority of leadership positions.”

The WEF concludes that at the current pace, it will take 118 years--or until 2133--to fully close the economic gap entirely.

As president of the only women’s college in the global higher education hub of Boston, my colleagues on campus and I think about these complex issues often. Social mores, traditions, sociological, political and psychological phenomena are all at play. But what is exceedingly clear is that the gender equity struggle extends well beyond the U.S. borders. We are facing an international inequality.

For the past 38 years, Simmons College has proudly held the preeminent Women’s Leadership Conference. Past speakers include Hilary Rodham Clinton, Madeleine Albright, the late Benazir Bhutto, Meg Whitman, Mary Robinson, Arianna Huffington, and Queen Noor. This year, we are confronting the global need to develop and empower women leaders by venturing overseas to present the 2016 Simmons International Leadership Conference.

Taking place on November 16-17 in Berlin, the Conference will convene such women leaders as best-selling author Nilofer Merchant, foreign policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter, tennis icon Martina Navratilova, activist and humanitarian Zainab Saibi, and high-tech legend Dame Stephanie Shirley under the theme, “Women Leading Change.”

A global problem requires a global conversation, and so Simmons is taking its highly successful Leadership Conference to Europe. By learning from talented, successful, inspirational women of the world, perhaps we can expedite the struggle for gender equality everywhere.

I am reminded of a quote from Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, who said, “If more women are in leadership roles, we'll stop assuming they shouldn't be.” I hope you will join us.

This post is part of a series on women’s leadership produced by The Huffington Post and the Simmons International Leadership Conference. The series aims to inspire an inclusive conversation and global support for closing the gender gap in leadership. For more information, visit here.