Women leaders make a difference
Recent national polls have shown that while majorities of Americans are comfortable with women leaders across all sectors — from academia and business to government and the military — only 18 percent of women actually hold the nation’s top leadership positions.
Yvonne Lumsden-Dill is working hard to increase that percentage. As executive director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, she has helped educate and train thousands of women over the past few years to run for public office or become leaders in the private sector.
She is both encouraged and discouraged by the progress women have made toward parity with men in business and politics.
For example, she notes that Wisconsin has one of the highest rates of women in the work force. But she’s disheartened by the state’s small number of women in high-paying jobs, executive suites and on corporate boards.
That’s where Lumsden-Dill and Mount Mary College believe the Women’s Leadership Institute can help improve the status of women. (By the way, at least one of the female candidates who won in last week’s Wisconsin primary is a graduate of the institute’s training.)
On Thursday, Sept. 23, the institute will host its annual Geneva B. Johnson Leadership Fall Forum at the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. Titled “Closing the Leadership Gap,” the event will feature keynote speaker Marie Wilson, president and founder of The White House Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to advance women in business, politics and the media.
Wilson, who also co-founded “Take Your Daughters and Sons To Work Day,” is on a national tour promoting the project’s recent report, “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership,” which marks the significant progress women have made in reaching leadership roles in American culture. The report also shows how far women have yet to go before shattering all panels of the glass ceiling.
At Thursday’s forum, Wilson will talk about The White House Project’s report, which surveyed women’s leadership status in the fields of academia, business, film and TV, journalism, law, the military, nonprofit organizations, politics, religion and sports.
In the report’s cover letter, Wilson writes that in the midst of the economic downturn and accompanying flux in politics and culture, “America has been turning to its women for vision, talent and leadership.”
Research shows it’s wise to do so. Wilson notes that when women are involved in a business or organization in significant numbers, financial profits and the quality of decision-making have been shown to improve.
According to Wilson’s report, Fortune 500 companies with high percentages of women corporate officers experienced on average a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return to shareholders than did those with low percentages of women corporate officers.
The report also includes recommendations for each sector, concluding that “achieving critical mass (at least one-third) of women in leadership is essential to to moving beyond gender to the new agenda our nation needs, and will allow women and men to work in partnership to build a stronger economy, better institutions and a more representative democracy.”
Thursday’s forum also will feature a panel discussion with local business leaders Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee; Catherine Buck, executive vice president of operations at Froedtert Hospital; and Elizabeth Orelup, a partner at Quarles & Brady.
Lumsden-Dill is thrilled that Wilson is including Milwaukee among her tour stops. Wilson’s message is not about bashing men, Lumsden-Dill says, “it’s about bringing the talents of women to the table.”