editorial is part of our GREAT DEBATE
feature 'Why Aren't
There More Women In Positions Of Power?'
In 2008, as Barack Obama and
Hillary Clinton fought for the
Democratic presidential nomination, many
baby boomer women did not understand how a
majority of their millennial daughters and
could support a man against the first woman
in history with a realistic chance of
winning the White House.
In reality, the readiness of these young
women to base their votes on something other
than the sex of the candidates was a sign of
their strength and self-determination.
Bolstered by legislation such as Title IX,
which required equality of the sexes in the
administration of public education, those
boomers created a cohort of high-achieving,
confident young women.
Already millennial women are taking their
rightful place among America’s leaders. Soon
they will begin to help redefine what it
means to be an effective leader in the 21st
Millennials have overwhelmingly turned their
backs on conventional notions about the
place of women in society, making their
generation the most gender neutral, if not
female driven, in U.S. history.
A 2009 Pew survey indicated that 84 percent
of millennials disagreed that “women should
return to their traditional roles in
society,” with two-thirds (67 percent)
completely disagreeing with the idea.
Last fall 82 percent of Millennials told Pew
that the trend toward more women in the
American workforce has been a “change
for the better.”
Their generation is the first in U.S.
history in which women are more likely to
attend college and professional school than
are men. Women are also more likely to
receive bachelor’s degrees than men. By
2016, they are projected to earn 64 percent
of associate’s degrees,
60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 63 percent
of master’s degrees, and 56 percent of
doctorates. But despite of their greater
representation in the student body, the
number of women holding college student
government office continues to
lag behind men. “At the 50 colleges
ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report,
less than a third of student presidents
In the end, however, the greatest
contribution of Millennial women to American
leadership may not be simply in holding
formal positions, but in helping to redefine
its very nature.
In 1964, Warren Bennis and Philip Slater,
argued that corporate leadership
characteristics would have to be altered to
survive in a period of increasing social
change in their Harvard Business Review
article titled, “Democracy
is Inevitable.” They cited five traits
that would define corporate success in the
Full and free communication, regardless of
rank and power.
A reliance on consensus to manage conflict.
Influence based on competence and knowledge,
not personal whims or prerogatives of power.
An atmosphere that encourages emotional
expressions as well as task-oriented acts.
A human bias, willing to cope and mediate
conflict between the organization and the
In the intervening fifty years, Boomer
parents have raised a generation of women
whose attitudes and beliefs are best suited
to exercising the style of leadership Bennis
accurately predicted would come to dominate
organizations in the future.
As social media technology constantly drives
down the cost of communicating and increases
the freedom and flexibility of each worker,
hierarchical top down, command and control
organizations are being increasingly
supplanted by horizontal structures in which
effective leadership depends on creating
trust, coordinating innovation, cultivating
creativity, and building consensus.