The issue of women’s “leadership” is, at its core, about women’s economic empowerment and advancement: their ability to get into the workforce, stay in the workforce, and rise. At a time when roughly half of all American workers are women and two-thirds of families rely on a female breadwinner or co-breadwinner to make ends meet, the ability of women to fully deploy their resources and work to the full extent of their capabilities is of urgent importance to family economic security—and to the fortunes of our nation as a whole.
And yet, the public conversation about women’s leadership in the United States— kick-started over the past 18 months by the colossal success of Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book, Lean In—has been strikingly narrow. In the scope of the problem it depicts, the population of women it addresses, and the range of options it envisions as means for change, the discussion has been limited in ways that have left the vast majority of women out in the cold. Its thought leaders have been mostly white, wealthy, prestigiously educated business leaders, politicians, and media celebrities. And the solutions they have typically aired—from negotiating for better salaries to closing the “confidence gap” through self-improvement—have presupposed levels of choice, control, and empowerment far out of the reach of all but the most privileged.
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