Tuesday October 16, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- More than 70 men and women from nine states, from Florida to Maine, recently gathered on the Miss Hall's School campus to discuss the education of young women and how to ensure that more women find their way to leadership roles in the future.

"We're working together to figure out just how do women and girls take a seat at the table," said Margaret "Peggy" Jablonski, the new head of school at Miss Hall's, who will be formally installed at a campus ceremony on Friday.

During Miss Hall's 16th annual Board of Visitors meeting, Mary Grant, the school's interim dean of academics and faculty, presented her audience with some jarring statistics:

n Only 17 percent of members in Congress are women, but women make up 51 percent of the nation's population.

n Women currently hold about 4 percent of the Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 CEO positions, or 19 and 21 CEOs respectively.

n Of full-time faculty positions, only about 24 percent of women hold positions as professors.

"With these numbers, you can't say women have an equal seat at the table," Grant said.

Ilene H. Lang, the keynote speaker for Friday's Board of Visitors meeting, is the president and CEO of Catalyst Inc., a research and advisory organization working to change workplaces and improve lives through advancing women into business leadership.

Catalyst compiles some of the statistics referenced by Grant.

Lang said there are three root causes of these disparities, including gender gaps in opportunity, leadership and compensation.

She said that these gaps have "nothing to do with ambition."

"The gaps are due to systemic barriers," she said.

Lang later referred to some studies on gender bias, including various blind audition case studies on professional symphonies. Results showed that 50 percent advanced from preliminary rounds of auditions when they performed behind screens.

Many members of the Miss Hall's Board of Visitors group agreed that there is a need for greater change across gender lines, in terms of advancing professions and social roles.

As part of the meeting, the Board of Visitors were also introduced to the Miss Hall's Horizons program, which offers students internship and mentoring opportunities. They were also shown a documentary film, "A Seat at the Table," filmed by six students from the school's Girls' Leadership Project.

The ultimate message of the day seemed to be that progress for women and girls can come through collaboration and social change.

Board of Visitors member Matt Syrett, a self-proclaimed husband to a successful woman, made note of how a man taking his children to the playground -- something still considered outside of the male gender role -- can be seen as "the playground pariah."

"Yes," said Lang, "it's like being the only woman in a group of men. It needs to change."