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Presidential Spouse Traci Corey, pictured left, addresses many of the issues women face in the workforce and in holding leadership roles in their lives. To begin the change needed to solve this problem, Olivet College has launched the Presidential Women’s Leadership Initiative, beginning with the inaugural event on March 3. Cultivating Women Leaders: Embracing Our Inner Strength, chaired by Corey, invites young women to Olivet College’s campus for a day of professional development.

Participants have access to three interactive breakout sessions led by Michigan’s most successful women business leaders. With the overall goal to close the leadership gap, the event will provide tools and resources to help women unlock and increase their leadership potential. The event also includes lunch, an Olivet College alumnae panel and a presentation by Keynote Speaker Danielle Scott-Arruda, five-time Olympian, two-time Olympic silver medalist in women’s volleyball and member of the International Volleyball Hall of Fame. Learn more about Cultivating Women Leaders: Embracing Our Inner Strength, or contact cwl@OlivetCollege.edu for questions and sponsorship information.

Women made considerable progress in the U.S. during the last decades of the 20th century, but women’s advancement in the leadership pipeline has stalled. Women make up approximately 51 percent of the U.S. population, and they hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, however in leadership positions women lag substantially behind men. Women are only 25 percent of executive- and senior-level officials and managers, hold only 19 percent of board seats, and are only 4.6 percent of CEOs. Now is not the time to slow down, more work needs to be done to close the leadership gap.

American women still encounter considerable barriers to reaching their full potential. Many high-achieving, affluent women are leaving their demanding jobs to spend more time at home, or at least looking for positions that offer more flexibility. Stereotypes and perceptions remain prevalent. Many perceive the shortage of women in leadership roles, as they don’t want those positions or professions. Also, American culture has had a longstanding assumption that the “ideal worker” is someone that’s all work, with no competing demands. This has caused many employees, mostly women, with care giving responsibilities to remain in lower level positions. With a 40-hour-a-week job in some companies considered to be part-time these days, many professional women are marginalized when they set aside time for life outside the office.

Still other barriers are structural. There is a shortage of role models for women who seek to move up through the ranks, which means that they lack mentors and opportunities in male-heavy organizations to develop the sorts of social relationships for mentorship, board appointments or simple promotions. These barriers in how we work have served to marginalize women, pushing them down or out of the workplace in the very era in which they are expected to thrive. There is hope for a better tomorrow, but it will take a village. We, as women leaders, can do our part by helping to inspire and equip the next generation for advancement.

As the wife of Olivet College’s President Steven M. Corey, I get the privilege of traveling and visiting with Olivet alumni and friends of the college. I run into many successful women who tell me how concerned they are with women’s plight for advancement, yet they are equally as passionate about inspiring the next generation to grow beyond where we are today. I also run into young women that are contemplating what their future careers and family life will look like. I can’t help but wonder, what do these young women see when they close their eyes and picture what a CEO looks like? Is it a woman? Or do they typically see men?

Our jobs as women are to inspire the next generation to dream as big as they want to dream. Whether they want to become the next Fortune 500 CEO, a small business owner, a partner at a prestigious law firm or a stay-at-home mom, we should empower them to advance in their careers and in life. If we are going to continue to narrow the leadership gap, we need to fill the pipeline with highly skilled women leaders. This will require us, as leaders, to set the example.

Olivet College recognizes that in order to inspire our female students to be exceptional leaders we must provide them with continuous and meaningful opportunities to learn and grow. Therefore, I’m chairing the college’s presidential women’s leadership initiative. I’ve engaged some of the most inspiring women leaders around the state of Michigan to serve on the Women’s Leadership Initiative Advisory Council. Our first event, Cultivating Women Leaders: Embracing Our Inner Strength to be held on March 3, will kick off the Women’s Leadership Initiative. Our long-term goals are to build on a successful event, by potentially expanding and growing this effort into a sustaining yearlong women’s leadership program serving women and girls from middle school through working professionals. We can close the leadership gap one leader at a time.

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