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The world of work and leadership has changed radically in the past few decades. Today, women occupy more than one-fifth of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies and nearly half of the law students. Women’s increased economic power and added social clout have changed the way we lead — for better or worse — both in our organizations and homes.


The Evolution of Women in Leadership

Like so many other functions at large companies, traditional leadership succession planning was long controlled by and for men. As long as this was the case and women weren’t deemed to be serious candidates for leadership positions, it made sense for companies to actively exclude them from leadership selection processes on a formal level. Today, however, the playing field has changed. Women’s significant professional strides have eroded the cultural bias that excluded them from leadership roles for centuries.

The gender balance in the workplace is changing, too. Today, women are more likely to be college graduates than men for the first time in U.S. history (well over half of all law degrees today are awarded to women). Women are also outpacing men at a rate of roughly two to one when it comes to earning advanced degrees. The workplace is shifting, too, as many male-dominated industries, such as the military and law enforcement, have seen significant female inroads. In fact, women account for roughly 15% of active-duty troops in the U.S. military and have led numerous ground combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, women are becoming more visible on the nation’s political stage, too. Today, there are 102 female U.S. representatives and 20 female U.S. senators — both records for the country — in contrast to a mere four female members of Congress in 1960, when women earned the right to vote nationally on the same terms (if not to the same degree) as men. This increase in female candidates has provided voters with more diverse choices, particularly for women representing both major political parties, which is particularly important in the present electoral climate.

When women take over for men in the boardroom, what does this mean for organizations and society? One of the most significant changes is a greater likelihood that women will add to an organization’s human capital. Women bring their own unique set of skills, knowledge, and perspective to help organizations succeed. The positions they take on are not only good for the company’s bottom line; they are also good for the company’s long-term growth and survival.



Women have been slow to reach the top echelons of business and government, but those who reach these positions are changing the way leading is done in these organizations. They have changed some of our most fundamental business decisions, such as the way we engage with customers, how companies manage risk and where they allocate resources. And they’re changing how we approach leadership differently in our personal lives.