Who Runs the World? The Quest for a Woman Commencement Speaker

Beyoncé once told me that girls run the world. And although women’s participation in the workplace has been steadily increasing, it sometimes feels like we’ve been stuck in the 1950s with paisley aprons and baby spit-up blankets forcibly glued onto our bodies. (OK—my professors would kill me for generalizing the female experience in this way; in fact, there are so many more perspectives I have not included. But for the purpose of the blog, I’m reflecting on my own experience, but needed to clarify that I do know that other experiences exist.)

It’s no news that women still remain under-represented among the highest earners. Although women comprise 59.2 percent of full-time wage workers, they only made up 2.4 percent of U.S. Fortune 500 chief executives in 2010. Even more significantly, in a report from the Global Leadership Forecast 2011, fewer women showed up in mid-level and senior-level positions in 2011 than in 2009.

These limited statistics are troubling to me, especially considering the ample evidence that suggests women in leadership actually help an organization’s operations. Did you know that organizations with more women in leadership positions report better financial performance? Yeah, neither did I, but unfortunately we’ve been taught that the opposite is true. I’ve left out so many convincing arguments, but the fact remains the same: advancing women into leadership positions is good for business and business culture.

So, why don’t we have more female commencement speakers here at CNU? On Wikipedia, no less, I found out that CNU has had two ‘notable’ female commencement speakers, including Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and Ann Compton, a White House correspondent for ABC News Radio. It just seems kind of lacking to me, especially for a university that talks about diversity and has a student body that is 56.9 percent female.

I have no doubt in my mind that this year’s commencement speaker will be all right, inspiring maybe. Considering how lucky I am to even be walking across that stage, I might not have room to complain! But nonetheless, the point remains that commencement speakers set the tone, and the repetition of older, Caucasian men isn’t setting a high precedent of women in leadership for us to follow.

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