04/01/2015 07:04 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2015

The Road to Parity: 30 Is the New 50

By Jay Newton-Small, Washington correspondent for TIME. She is currently a Spring 2015 IOP Resident Fellow.

Depending on who you ask, it will take women anywhere from 25 years to a century to reach parity in Congress. And, sadly, Congress is ahead of the private sector where female representation on corporate boards has stalled at 17 percent for the past decade.

But there is some good news: women may not have to wait decades to have an impact. Studies show that somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent in any body -- a legislature, a corporate board, a Navy ship or an appellate court -- and women begin to significantly change outcomes. It is phenomenon known as critical mass. And the good news is that in all three branches of the government we're almost there: Congress is at 20 percent, the federal bench is at 35 percent and the upper levels of the civil service combined with political appointees in the executive branch are at about 30 percent.

We are already getting a taste of what's to come. In the 113th Congress, the women of the Senate passed 75 percent of the major pieces of legislation, though the number committees chaired by women had dropped from eight to one with the GOP takeover in the 114th Congress.

Studies show that having a critical mass of women make companies more profitable, Navy ships run better and police less violent, amongst a long list of other benefits. We are just beginning to see how women govern, command and manage differently.

But, you may ask, don't women already make up 47 percent of the workforce? Indeed, they do. But women account for two-thirds of minimum wage jobs and three-fourths of shift work. The Quiet Revolution, as it is dubbed in academic circles, is coming to mid- and upper-level management. And one of the benefits of reaching that tipping point, in addition to diversity of thought and leadership skills, is having more women to help mentor and bring other women up.

As Hillary Clinton said during the 2014 campaign, "When women succeed, America succeeds." Indeed, with the baby boomers retiring the U.S. will by 2030 see a shortage of 40 million workers. Unless immigration is increased, the only way to solve that shortfall is to bring women up to full employment. With the public sector leading the way, we will soon more see how different things might be when women rule the world.