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Executive Leadership a New Frontier in Feminism

Feminism brought women into academics, the professional world and other male-dominated arenas, but has yet to transform the world of executive leadership. Of the Fortune 500 CEOs, only 21 are women.

The Harvard Business Review recently ran a piece that spotlights the new wave of feminism, led by Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg and Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, targeting the highest reaches of the corporate world.

Though women make up more than half of college graduates, they still represent a small fraction of industry's top brass.

"For a while it looked like this problem would fix itself, but at this point we've being waiting for top-level women to emerge from the pipeline for 40 years," the article reads. "Waiting isn't working. Women earn more college degrees than men, make up about 46 percent of the labor force, and hold more than half of managerial and professional positions. But men still run the world. (Literally — women make up 18 percent of the United States Congress, and about 20 world leaders out of 193 United Nations recognized states.)"

For reasons we can all probably guess (read: childcare, maternity leave, greater domestic responsibilities), women drop out or fall behind mid-career. They're well-represented at the college level, but are less likely to rise to the top at the same pace and frequency as men.

"Women leak out of the pipeline well before they reach the top," the Harvard write-up reads. "To take one example, women's law school enrollment peaked in 1993, at 50.4 percent. Twenty years later, when these women should be reaching the peaks of their careers, they make up barely 15 percent of law firm equity partners."

Sandberg's Lean In brand of feminism focuses on positions of authority, but not by encouraging women to distance themselves from each other, per some outdated shades of female ambition. Executive feminism is about networking amongst professional women, encouraging the solidarity it takes to achieve high levels of success.

"Research shows that women who succeed in jobs dominated by men, not surprisingly, often do so by distancing themselves from other women," the article continues. "What's impressive is that Sandberg, Slaughter, and [journalist Mika] Brzezinski aren't following that conventional wisdom. They are embracing change with the argument that maybe executive feminism is just what we need to jump-start the stalled gender revolution."

A jump-start is exactly what the professional feminist revolution needs, considering it would take 300 years at this pace before women share equal executive representation with men. In the meantime, men literally rule the world, holding most positions of power and affecting public policy. Even given the small share of leadership women now hold, their influence is nothing short of profound.

"More women in power might well lead to greater success in other arenas: Note that every female GOP senator voted for the recent reauthorization of the Violence Again Women Act," the author writes. "The people in power are the people who shape policy, whether in business or in politics or in the neighborhood garden club. It's as simple as that."

Amen, sister.

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think it would take to encourage more women to climb to executive leadership roles? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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