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Opportunity abounds for women who seize it


NEW YORK — Women need to lead and continue to develop in three different spheres — professional, personal and political — to ascend to the next level of power.

From a professional standpoint, the supposed ambition gap between men and women does not exist, Lauren Leader-Chivée, founder of All-in-Together Campaign Inc. and former president of the Center for Talent Innovation Inc. based in New York City, said Tuesday at Business Insurance's 2015 Women to Watch conference in New York.

“We have to be explicit about our ambition,” she said. That includes directly expressing the desire for promotion and asking for the support and sponsorship of male leaders who are “profoundly” and “deeply” committed to diversity in their organizations and in a position to address diversity issues, but are unsure how to accomplish the goal, Ms. Leader-Chivée said.

Women have made many professional strides, including the 8 million women leading businesses and the U.S. ranking as the top country for female entrepreneurs, she said. But only 4.2% of CEOs and 15.7% of board members at Fortune 500 companies are female, according to the nonprofit Catalyst Inc., which works to expand opportunities for women and business, while the United States ranks 67th in global wage equality — an “appalling” statistic, Ms. Leader-Chivée said.

But leadership for women goes beyond company boundaries, as it is equally important for women to have opportunities to fulfill their personal ambitions as well, she said. And in the personal sphere, there are still obstacles, as 70% of Americans in poverty are women and children while women still do the vast majority of housework and shoulder most of the child- and eldercare responsibilities, Ms. Leader-Chivée said. All these personal pressures lead to women being more stressed compared with men — 45% vs. 32% — she said.

“Our personal leadership is as important as professional leadership,” Ms. Leader-Chivée said.

Political leadership is also part of the equation, even though it is an “uncomfortable” and “awkward” topic to talk about, she said. Women represent 71.4 million voters in the United States but need to make politicians work for them, she said.

When Meg Whitman ran for governor of California in 2009-2010, she said she experienced more blatant sexism than during her time as CEO of Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard Co., according to Ms. Leader-Chivée.

“We have to push back,” she said. “We have to speak up when we see blatant sexism in our political process. It's unacceptable.”

While there are more women in the U.S. Congress than ever before, female candidates continue to struggle in politics, in large part due to a lack of financial support as women are far less likely than men to make political contributions, and men assume that women will donate to female candidates, Ms. Leader-Chivée said.

“It's a real double jeopardy for women candidates,” she said, challenging women in the audience to donate to the campaign of a women candidate. “Just recognize that she needs those funds to make a difference, and if we're not helping her, she may not get anywhere.”

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