09/08/2010 10:10 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Getting Beyond "Firsts"

When President Bill Clinton was inaugurated in January of 1993, I became the first woman to serve as White House press secretary. It was an honor and a privilege. But in so many ways, being the "first" was also a challenge. At times, I had more responsibility than I had authority -- something that still happens to women way too often -- and it made a tough job even tougher.

Nonetheless, it was an exciting time for me -- and for women. In fact, 1992 became known as the "Year of the Woman" because so many of us were elected to public office that November, including a record six to the United States Senate.

Before that election, there were only two women in the Senate. And from the ratification of our Constitution in 1789 to the 1992 election, only sixteen had ever served in the Senate. Today, there are 17 women in the Senate, and more than a dozen others competing for seats come fall.

That's not parity, but it's a huge step forward in less than two decades.

On the day I started college in 1979, no woman had ever been on the United States Supreme Court or served as the Speaker of the House. None had been an astronaut or the solo anchor of a network evening news broadcast. Not one had been president of an Ivy League college or run a serious campaign for president.

Every one of those things has happened now. There are three women on the Supreme Court. The Speaker of the House is a woman. Dozens of women have slipped earth's surly bonds and traveled to space. Two are anchoring network evening newscasts. Four of the eight Ivy League colleges have women presidents. And in 2008, women ran serious campaigns for president and vice president.

And yet. There are still too few women in elective office, and too few running Fortune 500 companies. Until this year, no woman had ever won an Oscar for Best Director. And only one has ever been awarded a fourth star in any branch of the United States military -- and that was just last year. No woman has ever been Secretary General of the United Nations or Secretary of the Treasury here in the U.S. And of course, no woman has ever been elected President of the United States.

I'm confident that all that will change, too -- and in my lifetime. Every day, women are reaching for new opportunities and breaking down old barriers. I look forward to a time, in the not so distant future, when we no longer look forward to "firsts" as milestones women have yet to achieve, but we look back on them as historic events that continue to teach and inspire.