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2018 Broke Records for Women’s Leadership- But It’s Only the Beginning

2019 will be a groundbreaking year for women.  

For one, a record number of women entered Congress. Women have never held more than 84 of the 435 seats in the House, but an extraordinary 117 were elected in November. These include 42 women of color, three who identify as LGBTQ, and 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Women also won a record nine governorships.

Women across the country are also breaking ground in the private sector. Forerunner Ventures, founded by Kirsten Green, raised a new $360 million fund last fall, one of the largest ever raised by a woman-founded firm. When Shonda Rimes inked her $150 million Netflix deal a year and a half ago, she set a new standard for women across the entertainment industry.

Notable C-suite “first females” of 2018 included Beth Ford, chief executive of Land O’Lakes; Debra Perelman, CEO of Revlon; Jill Soltau, CEO of JCPenney; and Dhivya Suryadevara, CFO of General Motors. As of Jan. 1, the CEOs of four of the nation’s five biggest defense contractors — Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and the defense arm of Boeing — are now women.

The New York Stock Exchange named its first female president in its 226-year history last May; The Washington Post noted that 30 years ago, the NYSE lunch club didn’t even have a women’s restroom.

These are remarkable achievements, and they give new confidence not only to women but to young girls across the country aspiring to positions of leadership. But this is just the beginning.

Only 25 women, for example, currently run Fortune 500 companies. And while these CEOs may outearn their male counterparts, the average American woman only earns 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Women still account for only 38 percent of board members of Fortune 500 companies, according to Heidrick & Struggles’ 2018 Board Monitor. And 12 Fortune 500 companies have no women on their boards at all.

Notably, this year, a new California law — the first of its kind in the United States  — requires publicly traded firms to place at least one woman on their board of directors by the end of 2019. This is a significant and laudable step not just toward equitable representation of women on boards, but toward diversity on boards in general — and greater corporate success.

As women, we don’t want preferential treatment because we are women — that should never be the goal. We want it because we get results.

Diversity is a proven factor in a company’s success. A 2012 study by McKinsey & Co. of 180 publicly traded companies in Europe and the United States found that companies with greater board diversity saw higher margins and higher returns on shareholder equity. And multiple reports have shown that a company with more diverse representation in senior management in general will likely achieve greater profits.

But a 2017 McKinsey report on women in the workplace found that women’s progress may be stalling. The report found that while there are more female college graduates than men, fewer women are hired at the entry level — and at every step on the corporate ladder, women see fewer promotions than men.

McKinsey’s report concluded that “many employees think women are well-represented in leadership when they see only a few. And because they’ve become comfortable with the status quo, they don’t feel any urgency for change.”

We need that urgency.

Take venture capitalism, for example. A new study from Boston Consulting Group found that for every dollar raised, women-run startups generated 78 cents in revenue, compared to 31 cents for men. And yet, in the United States, startups with at least one woman co-founder receive only 18 percent of all venture capital dollars.

Women also need to invest in women. Women, for example, are more likely to give to charity than impact investing.

We need more women in positions of influence to write checks to female-led startups. Female-run venture capitalism firms such as Halogen Ventures, which invests in female-founded consumer technology, and SoGal Ventures, which is focused on supporting diverse founding teams, are excellent examples of the women-helping-women model.

Because many board members are chosen by word-of-mouth, we also need women who already hold spots on boards to recommend other women to their colleagues. And we need more executive and board search firms that connect companies with qualified, diverse board director and C-suite candidates.

Women have proven, time and again, that we have grit and perseverance in the face of obstacles, and that we can be at the helms of billion-dollar companies, and do it well.

Let’s make 2019 the year “the glass ceiling” stops being something people talk about.

Heather Combs is Chief Revenue officer for, an Inc. 5000 developer of client-facing web and mobile applications.

Dondi Saunders is a Managing Partner at the executive search firm Levia Partners.

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