Linda BaschInaugural Address
Institute for Women's Leadership and Social Responsibility
Cottey College, November 18, 2010

Cottey College and Women's Transformative Leadership: The Promise and a Call to Action

By Linda Basch, PhD

Thank you so much. It is indeed an honor to join in inaugurating the new INSTITUTE FOR WOMEN'S LEADERSHIP AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY at COTTEY COLLEGE, an institution that EMBODIES THE IDEALS that SO MANY OF US CARE DEEPLY ABOUT, especially members of my organization, the National Council for Research on Women. Your emphasis on social responsibility, global awareness, and ethical leadership are critical in the world today.

I especially want to thank President Judy Robinson Rogers and Dr. Sonia Cowen, Executive Director of the Institute, for inviting me here today and providing me the opportunity to visit your campus and meet all of you. And I want to also thank Elizabeth Garrels, President of the International Chapter of the PEO Sisterhood, Denise Hedges, Director of the Center for Women's Leadership, the thoughtful students whom, I had the opportunity to meet with today, and Tracy Comstock, for putting the pieces of my visit together.

For those of you who may not know me, I head up the NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR RESEARCH ON WOMEN -- a network of 120 research, policy, and advocacy centers dedicated to promoting rights and opportunities for women and girls.

At the Council, we use RESEARCH AS A TOOL FOR ACTION. We raise awareness about the disparities and imbalances that persist in our economy and society and we bring that awareness to news media, to government experts, and to other researchers, policy specialists, philanthropists, and the general public.

The importance of your center, and Cottey College more broadly, cannot be overstated. It's clear that women's and girls' institutions of learning don't just provide an outstanding education to some of our country's finest young minds, they also do an extraordinary job of preparing young women for leadership.

As many of you know, women's colleges have produced many Notable Firsts -- the FIRST woman Secretary of State, MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, the FIRST woman editor of the New York Post, JANE AMSTERDAM, the FIRST woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize as far back as 1946, the socialist and women's rights activist EMILY GREEN BALCH. All of them were graduates of women's colleges.

In fact today, graduates of women's colleges constitute more than 20% of women in Congress and 30% of a recent BusinessWeek list of rising women stars in Corporate America.

In other words, colleges like Cottey perform a great service to our society and to our world community.

As you at Cottey College embark on this exciting new center, it is important to recognize some of the spectacular changes that are taking place in the world of education for women. In the United States, women now earn 57% of the Bachelors Degrees, 61% of the Masters Degrees and for the first time ever, are earning more PhDs than men (2008-09). Additionally, women are now graduating at higher rates in disciplines traditionally dominated by men, such as law and medicine.

And the achievements of women in the education arena are being reflected in the world of work, where women are now 50% of the paid labor force in the US, and 40% of the managers.

But unfortunately we're not seeing these accomplishments on the part of women leading to top positions of POWER AND INFLUENCE in most professional and political spheres.

According to a study released at the end of October by the United Nations, only 13 of the 500 largest corporations in the world have a woman CEO - that's less than 3 PERCENT.

And a recent report by Catalyst - a women in business research organization, and member center of the National Council for Research on Women - shows that even among highly talented MBAs, WOMEN LAG BEHIND MEN IN ADVANCEMENT AND COMPENSATION FROM THEIR VERY FIRST PROFESSIONAL JOBS, and are less satisfied with their careers overall than men. Men, in contrast, are more likely to get a first job at a higher rank and with greater levels of responsibility than women.

And in the realm of government and political leadership, the situation for women isn't much better. Worldwide, women comprise a critical mass of 30 percent or more of the leadership of their national legislatures in just 23 countries.

Sadly, the UNITED STATES is not included in this group. In fact, the U.S. ranks 73rd in the world, tied with Turkmenistan, with less than 17% women representatives in the House of Representatives and 15% in the Senate. Just think about our peers here. What does that say about our democracy?

And in this day, a woman Head of State remains an international oddity: only 14 women in the world currently hold such a position.

So, although the stars are aligning for women in many ways, we still have a lot of work to do to change scenarios so that we'll have more women at the top!


As we strive to change the inequalities that continue to daunt this world, it's critical to remember that advocating for and building women's leadership is an issue that goes beyond just fairness. It's about UTILIZING OUR BEST RESOURCES to create the kind of world we want to live in. It's not only about the numbers. Women in decision-making positions and with power bring distinct perspectives and visions that can have a transformative impact on the way we do business in many arenas - and on our assumptions, cultural norms, and the policy-making that can produce change.

As we know both anecdotally and through research, women are often concerned with those who are left out and marginalized, and have been credited with thinking beyond themselves to their families and communities. Moreover, when there are enough women at the table, they frequently bring a different way ofthinking, relating, , collaborating, and bridge building.

As Retired Army General Claudia Kennedy once said: "women don't just see things differently, they see different things."

Researchers at STANFORD UNIVERSITY recently published a study assessing the IMPACT women had on public policy after achieving the vote in 1920. The researchers found substantial increases in LOCAL PUBLIC HEALTH SPENDING, which they attributed to women voters. And the resulting LARGE-SCALE hygiene campaigns, led to significant declines in child mortality and the saving of 20,000 INFANT LIVES NATIONWIDE each year going forward. No small thing!

And perhaps because of the current economic doldrums of our own time, the value of gender diversity seems to be GAINING UNPRECEDENTED TRACTION among opinion leaders. Many have picked up on the question raised at the World Economic Forum in Davos: WHAT IF LEHMAN BROTHERS HAD BEEN LEHMAN BROTHERS AND SISTERS?

A TIME Magazine issue this past May featured THE NEW SHERIFFS OF WALL STREET: Sheila Bair (FDIC), Mary Schapiro (Securities and Exchange Commission), and Elizabeth Warren (TARP) -- three women leaders who have played prominent roles in financial regulation since the crisis of 2008. According to the cover story: "it is their WILLINGNESS TO BREAK RANKS and CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO that make these increasingly powerful women different from their predecessors."

In fact, our recent research at the NCRW - on women in the financial services - bears out that women tend to be more detail‑oriented than men, to take into account a WIDE RANGE OF INFORMATION -- INCLUDING CONTRADICTORY FACTORS -- before making decisions, to be MEASURED RISK-TAKERS, and to look at the long-term rather than just the short-term.

In her book, HOW REMARKABLE WOMEN LEAD, JOANNA BARSH of McKinsey found that GREAT WOMEN LEADERS share the traits of OPTIMISM and FEARLESSNESS. If they see risks, they meet them head-on. They are not held back by self-doubt, second-guessing, or perfectionism.

As you at Cottey College have demonstrated with your own LEO PROGRAM for LEADERSHIP, EXPERIENCES, and OPPORTUNITY, and your Center for Women's Leadership, leadership means not just TAKING CHARGE, but TAKING RESPONSIBILITY. And while the differences between genders pale in comparison to those WITHIN genders, the body of evidence on decision-making approaches provides compelling evidence for women's distinctive ways of thinking and doing, and strengths.

The evidence also points to the importance of having sufficient numbers of women in positions of power, where they are able to draw on their talents and work alongside men in shaping priorities and programs in our society and economy.

Until now, my examples have been primarily US-based. And I know all of you here at Cottey College are concerned with a global perspective and contributing to a global society.


What's particularly gratifying is the number of world thought leaders who are increasingly calling attention to the importance of women's leadership and education. This is especially noteworthy in the developing world, in many parts of which women remain woefully marginalized and impoverished.

People like Maria Shriver, Nicholas Kristof, and Sheryl WuDunn, for example, have identified women's empowerment as a potent means of accelerating political and economic development. They have referred to women's education and leadership as critical strategies in the development tool kit.'.

And Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen has argued that nothing is more important for development today than the economic, political, and social participation of women.

Back in the late 1970s, I worked in the interior of Nigeria with my husband, then a neophyte medical doctor. We were there with a program to inoculate children against measles, and it was one of the first times physicians used a "gun" instead of a needle for vaccinations. We expected parents to be afraid or maybe to not even show up.

So, my role was to develop materials to sensitize the population, especially mothers, to the importance of this vaccine in protecting their children from what could be a killing disease in that part of Africa. But much to our surprise, the mothers needed no sensitization. They walked for miles to get there - hundreds of them. Some walked all night. I was deeply impressed by how willing and how determined those women were.

They completely understood the importance of what we were doing. And by the way, when my husband and I looked out at that eager sea of faces, we saw only women and children - no men.

That experience really drove home to me the possibilities of collaborative development - of Africans and Americans working side by side. It also influenced my future career choice and led me to become an anthropologist. But as important, it made me forever aware of the important role women play as change agents.

As many of you perhaps know, experts in international development attach a great deal of importance to the EDUCATION of women and girls, which they see as a driver of both economic growth and poverty reduction.

Here are some interesting statistics with regard to education that I think will impress you as much as they do me.

  • Can you imagine that female literacy in Saudi Arabia rose from 2% in the mid-1960s, when universal girls' education was introduced, to 70% today - in just 40 years? Saudi women in fact now account for nearly 60% of all university students - and perhaps not surprisingly, have come to increasingly question the constraints on their lives. That's what happens when people get educated - they learn to think critically and raise questions. Well by 2003, Saudi women came together to sign a petition demanding that the government recognize their legal and civil rights. And the government, risking the wrath of religious conservatives, finally agreed a few years ago to give women the vote and let them take part in elections.
  • This example underscores what we all know -- education can be powerful! And it can have a palpable impact on families, communities, and society.
  • According to the World Bank, women with formal education are much more likely to use reliable family planning methods, delay marriage and childbearing, and have fewer and healthier babies.
  • And as I saw first-hand in Nigeria, women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care, ensure that their children are immunized, focus on their children's nutritional requirements, and send them to school.
  • Education can also affect disease and violence. A study in Zambia showed that AIDS spreads twice as fast among uneducated girls as educated girls. Similarly, research among young rural Ugandans has shown that those with secondary education are 3 times less likely than those with no education to be HIV-positive.

But while the compelling case for educating women and girls is highly convincing, their access to education remains unacceptably uneven. According to the United Nations, TWO-THIRDS of the almost 800 million adults who are illiterate around the globe are women - and THIS PROPORTION HAS REMAINED STATIC for the past 20 YEARS.

And as alarming, 72 million children of primary school age ARE NOT ATTENDING SCHOOL, and more than half of this grouping are girls.

So as we see, women are particularly vulnerable to poverty - and this holds for the US as well, where 15 million women live below the poverty line and 17 million have no health insurance coverage - but women are also critical agents of change. Women are able, they are talented, and as I saw so well in Nigeria and other places I have worked, they are determined.

All this evidence highlights for us that to really bring about the changes needed in society, and to address the imbalances and inequities that haunt us world-wide, women's active participation and engagement are needed in their communities and societies.

And so is their leadership, which is beginning to happen - albeit in very small numbers.


Today, interestingly, women are beginning to assume political leadership in countries that have been torn by political and military strife and that have experienced deep economic challenges.

The election of women as heads of state in Germany, Liberia, and Chile a few years ago are important examples, because in all three countries, women leaders were brought in on EXPLICIT MANDATES to move their nations toward reconciliation, economic development, peace, and new, wider understandings of security - agendas that are in fact often favored by women.

One of Liberian President ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF's first programs was to establish the Liberian Education Fund. This led to the building or rehabilitation of dozens of schools, the training of hundreds of teachers, and the awarding of thousands of scholarships, principally to girls.

German Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL, a physicist, has governed the world's third largest economy by leading a consensus for change. Born in Communist East Germany, she has focused on health care reform and energy development , and interestingly, has been able to keep her position through tough economic times.

Chile's former President MICHELLE BACHELET, a pediatrician and former minister of health who was tortured during the rule of General Pinochet, promised FREE PRESCHOOL CARE for the poorest 40% of her country's working mothers - something we sorely need in this country. Bachelet also called for STRICTER LAWS AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE and greater protection for its victims.

But there are other women leaders acting globally who are also making significant differences.

Navi Pillay, a former Justice on the International Criminal Court, for example, enabled women to bring issues such as rape and prostitution in conflict zones onto the Court's agenda. In 1998, Pillay, heading up the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, for the first time in history adjudicated that rape is a crime of war.

This ruling put sexual abuse and exploitation in armed conflict on the map.


So, when we look at all this information on the role of women's education and transformative leadership in the world today, what do we, as educators, researchers and activists, see going forward, and most important, what do we see for the center you are inaugurating and the fortunate young women who will come through its doors?

First, we see that there is much work to be done on behalf of women and girls world -wide. Women at all socio-economic levels are talented, motivated, and able, and when given the tools of education in particular, can accomplish amazing things for themselves, their families and communities.

Second, we see that this is an exciting time to be a woman, and especially a young woman! Increasingly, important institutions in the world are beginning to look to women as critical parts of the solution to some of today's most complex problems. They see what women are accomplishing through education, and what they're beginning to achieve in leadership positions. So, young women will have important opportunities to drive positive change.

But at the same time, we see that there are many hurdles to overcome. The number of women leaders is still miniscule - across sectors, and in most countries of the world. As we see, old customs are hard to change - for women as well as men, even in our own country. World-wide, there are still many resistances to women's leadership and in too many places, to their education. So young women will confront challenges as they try to reach for opportunities to assert their leadership potential.

So how do we give our young leaders of tomorrow the resolve - and the tools - to stay on course, to motivate themselves and others? As all of us in this room know, the world needs them! What is our call to action?

In thinking about this, let me share with you some of the goals that my organization, the National Council for Research on Women, sees as central in our work with young women.

  1. First and foremost, we at the Council are constantly advocating for a critical mass of women leaders at decision-making tables, working with men - only then, we believe, will women be able to have an impact. Without a significant proportion of women at the table, they and their ideas will be perceived as a special interest - not as real contributions to the whole that they need to be.

We in this room know that for the most part, what's good for women, is good for everyone and that issues heretofore perceived as women's issues are really everyone's issues. But it's not just the numbers of women. What's also important is the values-based leadership, with social responsibility and justice at the center, that we expect our leaders of tomorrow to assert. And here's where a center such as the Institute for Women's Leadership and Social Responsibility at Cottey College has an important role to play. Your values are the values that need to guide our future leaders'work.

  1. A second important goal for us focuses on the imperative to work in coalitions - collectively and collaboratively. As the head of a national non-profit network, I am constantly aware of how much we need to work together to create change - across silos and sectors - to increase our impact. But this can also be challenging. We need to be able to share recognition and to compromise. Sometimes our partners of the moment may not share all our ways of doing things, or even all our values - and may even sometimes test our will. We need to spend time addressing these differences as we chart our directions.
  1. We also want to encourage innovation among our budding leaders, to create an environment in which young women can think out of the box and come up with some of the creative ideas the world so sorely needs - for example, to address the poverty and disparities that are too prominent today. And we want to encourage our young leaders of tomorrow not to be afraid to ask questions and challenge assumptions - to want to know why their elders tolerate a world of such inequality and unfairness.
  1. But at the same time, we want our young leaders to recognize their own leadership within themselves, to have confidence in their ideas and abilities - and a comfort level with speaking up to promote themselves. They will need mentors and sponsors, and we need to help them to realize that, but they need mentors and sponsors who will honor their abilities and talents and create space for them to grow.
  1. And lastly, we want to create an inclusive environment, in which young women from a diversity of backgrounds can come together and understand each other -- young women of different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and with different sexual orientations -- who will flourish because they will know how to pose bold ideas and succeed in a diverse world.

This is our charge, our call to action, at the National Council for Research on Women, and is one I expect that we share with you at Cottey College.

I have a feeling that we are on the cusp of an unprecedented moment for women of all backgrounds to play active roles in creating the solutions that will set us on a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable path. And I expect to see Cottey women, building on their experience at the Institute for Women's Leadership and Social Responsibility, playing leadership roles in these efforts - acting on the belief that it is no longer tolerable for 15 million women in the US to live in poverty or for almost 800 million people to live in poverty world-wide.

I am very honored to celebrate this inauguration with you. I wish you many years of success, and also hope that you will join the National Council for Research on Women network so that together, we can build a brighter future in which all women and girls, their families, and communities can flourish.

Thank you!

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