On a recent Friday in downtown LA, the Los Angeles Business Journal convened a gathering of women who are leaders in every industry imaginable. This was both a celebration of the current and future business leaders who are driving change across the region, and also a reminder of the hard work that is still needed to realize true equity in business.

Many of the challenges women face in business are as obvious as they are disappointingly persistent. Far too many women face harassment in the workplace — as evidenced by the ongoing revelations from the #MeToo movement. Women continue to earn a fraction (80 percent) of what their male peers earn, and women entrepreneurs continue to fight an uphill battle to raise funds to scale their enterprise. Working mothers face insufficient, or nonexistent, paid maternity leave and limited child care availability, both of which hamper career growth. Women are woefully underrepresented in the C-suite and in the halls of government. The statistics are even more disheartening when examining opportunity for women of color.

While there is still a steep hill to climb, women have made significant gains in claiming leadership roles in businesses as diverse as automobile, aerospace, food, pharmaceutical and technology — all industries that have women at the helm. Women who are still climbing the ladder can look to leaders like Mary Barra, CEO for General Motors; Indra Nooyi, CEO for PepsiCo; Marillyn Hewson, CEO for Lockheed Martin; Lisa Davis, CEO for Siemens; and Emma Walmsley, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. This is a move in the right direction for business and a positive change for the financial health of these organizations. The numbers prove this point — a 2016 Peterson Institute for International Economics study found that corporations that have women in leadership positions are more profitable.

Education is one of the few arenas where women are leading across the board. In 2015, for the first time, women surpassed men in bachelor’s degree attainment. Nationwide, more than 56 percent of college students are women. In today’s competitive economy, a college degree is an essential tool for success. As more women earn degrees, women will continue to see gains in leadership opportunities. I’m proud to be a part of the largest public university system in the country, and one that now has the majority of its 23 campuses led by women.

I am the third consecutive woman to lead California State University, Northridge, which is a rarity in higher education, and we have a number of women in leadership positions on our campus. These leaders serve to exemplify that women indeed can accomplish anything. Just looking at CSUN’s own powerful alumni base of more than 350,000, we have alumnae leading aerospace, education, politics and government, entertainment, finance and accounting, human resources, health care, marketing, law, media and journalism, and nearly every other industry in Southern California.

A solid education is vital to establishing the foundation to create leaders who are catalysts for a more equitable workplace and a better world. CSUN has nurtured leaders such as: Adriana Ocampo Uria, head of NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Programs; Nicole Avant, former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas; Michelle Vicary, Executive Vice President of the Hallmark Channel; Janet Garufis, chairperson and CEO of Montecito Bank & Trust; Rebecca Mieliwocki, former National Teacher of the Year; Linda Lingle, former Governor of Hawaii; and the publisher and CEO of this publication, Anna Magzanyan. The list of powerful almunae goes on and on.

Having workplaces that reflect society — not only from a gender perspective — has tangible benefits for employees and for finances. We need to all work together to ensure that men and women have opportunities every day to mentor and “lean in” to make a difference. It was inspiring to participate in the 2018 Women’s Council & Awards and see the next generation of leaders supporting each other.

Dianne F. Harrison is President of California State University, Northridge and Vice Chair of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

Return to Index

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.