Why I Think 2018 Will be the Year of the Woman

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Some people thought 2016 would be the Year of the Woman as many expected Hillary Clinton to become the first female U.S. President. Then came 2017 and already this year three prominent female CEOs have stepped down.

Sheri McCoy announced in August that she would be stepping down as CEO of Avon. Interestingly, McCoy was passed up for the CEO position at her previous employer Johnson and Johnson in 2012. Despite being at the company for 30 years, overseeing 60,000 employees and ranking no. 10 on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list a man was selected for the top job instead of McCoy.

Marissa Mayer left Yahoo earlier this year as Verizon completed its $4.5-billion purchase of Yahoo. And Oreo cookie maker Mondelez International Inc. recently announced that Dirk Van de Put, the current chief executive of Canadian frozen food maker McCain Foods, will succeed Irene Rosenfeld as CEO in November 2017.

Bloomberg had an interesting, albeit depressing analysis of the situation: “since 2009, 19 female CEOs of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies have stepped down. In only three of those cases was she replaced by another woman.” Clearly, there is a lot of ground for women to make up.

Not only do we need to increase the number of women entering leadership positions, we need to make sure that when a woman steps down that she is replaced by an equally qualified woman. This is how we are going to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.

I have my hopes set on 2018 as being the Year of the Woman for a few reasons.

With mid-term elections next year, it’s possible that we’ll see an increase in women elected to public office. A recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that “nearly six-in-ten women (58%) say they are paying increased attention to politics since Trump’s election, compared with 46% of men.”

This quote from Marianne Schnall, author of the book What Will It Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership & Power, sums it up so well, “regardless of one's politics, it is fair to say that Trump was a candidate who never had a career in government and has little experience on the range of domestic and foreign policy issues he faces. His success can send a message to women that "if you just want to do this, you're more than ready and able.”

I’m also hopeful because there is growing institutional support for women to ascend the career ladder. New organizations such as Leaders in Tech are being formed to make predominately male industries – such as the tech industry in Silicon Valley - more friendly to women. And there are several organizations that are working to get more women on corporate boards including 2020 Women on Boards, a national campaign dedicated to increasing the percentage of women on corporate boards to 20% by 2020. The Rockefeller Foundation is also doing important work through its 100×25 campaign to reach its goal of 100 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies by 2025.

Lastly, I’m hopeful because there is a growing pipeline of younger women leaders. An article in INC reports that “millennial women have surged ahead of many of their male counterparts. Close to 60 percent of all college students are women, demonstrating that a growing number of women now have--the so-called "ticket" to a high-paying job. The INC article also cites a recent U.S. Census Bureau analysis shows that as more young women obtained college degrees they were able to secure a higher number of better-paying jobs.

I’m optimistic that 2018 will bring even greater career mobility for millennials, there will be more opportunities for women to enter and remain in the c-suite, and we will see more women elected to public office. Certainly, any one of these would be great, but like so many other women I know that collectively we can achieve so much more.

Dr. Bernice Ledbetter is Practitioner Faculty of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine Graziadio School of Business and Management where she chairs the M.S. in Management and Leadership degree program. Her research and teaching interests focus on values-based leadership, peace leadership, and gender. Dr. Ledbetter founded the Pepperdine Center for Women in Leadership to empower and advance women in the workplace.

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