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The Persistent Female Leadership Gap Hurts Us All

In politics and business, women remain underrepresented in top jobs
May 22, 2019

This photo of my daughter, Charlotte, was taken shortly after Barack Obama was elected president in 2009. The caption to the drawing says Charlotte, who was five years old, wishes she could be president.

It was a meaningful moment because Charlotte is, like former President Obama, biracial. It suddenly seemed like her potential was as unlimited as the rainbow that she drew over her head. It seemed like a profound moment for equality.  

Charlotte is now a sophomore at Denver South High School and she is (remember: I’m her dad) brilliant and driven, prepared to be a leader who will make her mark on the world.

I’d like to believe her potential is unlimited. But how do I explain to her the persistent inequality when it comes to women in top leadership positions in business and politics?

More women than ever are leading our nation’s largest companies — yet they make up less than 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs.

To put it in even starker terms, there are more men named John than women in the list of Fortune 500 CEOs.

Women are also badly underrepresented in the top positions in U.S. politics. Nearly a century after the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, no woman has yet served as U.S. president or vice president. Of two dozen Democrat candidates for president, only a quarter are women.

In our state of Colorado, no woman has ever served as governor, U.S. senator or mayor of Denver, our largest city.

What do I tell Charlotte? How should I explain why people aren’t storming the capitol or city hall or corporate shareholder meetings demanding change?

At SE2, we benefit from the leadership of an amazing woman and role model, Susan Morrisey.

Susan is a huge improvement over the previous CEO.  I can confidently say that because she replaced me.

Early in her career, Susan served as press secretary for U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder of Denver. Like a lot of female pioneers, Schroeder is unappreciated.

Pat Schroeder was a badass. I covered her as a cub reporter in Washington and Denver. She was one of these politicians who took over any room she entered. She was brilliant at both the substance and theater of politics.

She was the first woman elected to Congress from Colorado and she became a powerhouse in male-dominated Washington.

Schroeder had a knack for pithy quotes and liked to point out the double standard women leaders faced in Washington. “Nobody ever says to men, how can you be a Congressman and a father,” she noted. She explained: “I have a brain and a uterus and I use both.”

While Schroeder is long retired from politics, Susan has become a formidable leader herself.

When things get rough, Susan is the one you want in your corner.

Susan has no trouble digging in yet she also keeps her eye on the prize. She doesn’t fall into the testosterone trap when it comes to distinguishing between winning points and reaching important goals.

Even while she’s driving the bus, Susan can keep her eyes both on the road ahead and the passengers behind her. She’s not just trying to reach the objective — she wants to make sure everyone else gets there with her.

Susan’s decisions are never guided by ego, and always take into account the opinions of other members of the team.

She ensures we are building a strong and growing company by leading our culture of innovation and by taking smart risks.

SE2 is a better, stronger company because of Susan’s leadership.

The enduring and extreme shortage of women in the top business and political posts is not just unfair to the next generation of women like my daughter Charlotte; it shortchanges all of us because we don’t fully reap the benefits of their leadership.

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