25 Years of College Women Leaders—Looking Ahead

January 06, 2010

This June will mark the 25th anniversary of the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL). The conference, to be held June 3–5, is an inspiration to women student leaders who aspire to change their campuses and communities. This conference is the chance of a lifetime for young women who are seeking ways to improve their leadership skills, meet other women who share their enthusiasm, and, perhaps best of all, discover new role models. Past NCCWSL attendees have been transfixed by the speeches of noteworthy women such as Melanne Verveer, Zainab Salbi, and Tammy Duckworth.

This anniversary event gives us the opportunity to consider what women have experienced over the last 25 years as well as the remaining barriers and roadblocks. More importantly, it is an opportunity to look forward to the further the advancement of women and girls and to the ways that we will be able to change society in the future. Which women will lead in the military? Which will excel in science and technology? How will women, who make up nearly half of today’s workforce, attain work-life balance?

I’m encouraged by the strides women have made over the past 25 years:

  • In 1985, there were only two female senators in the U.S. Congress ─ Paula Fickes Hawkins (R-FL) and Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-KS). Today, that number has jumped to 18.
  • In 1985, 51 percent of graduate students in degree-granting institutions were women. In 2010, women will make up 59 percent of graduate students.
  • In 2010, we are projected to comprise almost half (48 percent) of the U.S. workforce, a small but steady progression from 45 percent in 1985.

I have, however, been disheartened to find out how far away women still are from filling the leadership gap. According the White House Project Benchmarking Women’s Leadership report, only 18 percent of leadership positions in the United States are held by women on average, and even fewer are held by women of color.

If you take a look back to 25 years ago in women’s history ─ back to the beginning of NCCWSL ─ you may find some interesting differences. So tell us, what do you think are the most surprising stats for women (better or worse) from 1985 to today?

Jennifer Steenberg By:   |   January 06, 2010

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