10/22/2012 04:08 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

The Candy Crowley Effect: Little Things Can Lead to Big Changes

Last week, young women across the country saw something on their TVs and streaming on their laptops they had never seen before: a woman moderating a presidential debate.

For 20 years, female journalists were passed over for the job. Looking forward, what needs to happen to ensure we don't have to wait another 20 years to see it again?

Ensuring that the next generation of women breaks through the gender leadership gap is a multifaceted issue, but Candy Crowley's position as a role model cannot be underestimated. One of the top barriers that women name to reaching the top is a lack of role models. And a recent study demonstrated the far-reaching power of role models in a community.

The study looked at two groups of girls in India: One group lived in areas with only male government officials, and the other lived in areas with both female and male government officials. The study found that the girls who were exposed to women leaders were more likely to set high education goals and to dedicate themselves to finishing school. Additionally, their parents also set higher expectations for their daughters. But the opposite happened in the male-dominated areas, where parents set higher expectations for their sons than for their daughters.

Big changes in the leadership of the media industry -- where men hold 73 percent of the top management jobs and nearly two-thirds of reporter jobs -- won't happen overnight. But there are steps we can take right now to get us on our way toward ensuring we have women equally represented on our screens.

First, let's publicly thank the Commission on Presidential Debates for choosing Crowley as a moderator (send a thank-you e-mail to ) as well as the three high school students who used a petition to speak up for women's representation. We should use positive reinforcement to hold the commission accountable to having equal representation for women in the 2016 debates.

Second, look local. In these final weeks of your state and local campaigns, find out if the debates in your own community have any women as moderators. If not, find out why! Write a letter to your newspaper, or make a phone call to the organizers.

And finally, to build off this recent debate's historic moment, ask a girl in your life who her role model is. Tell her yours, and encourage her to think about the possibilities in her future. Pointing to role models -- like Crowley and the three teenagers who used their voices for change -- will ensure that the girls in your life know how big their dreams can be.

With these small steps, we can make sure that more girls -- and boys -- aren't surprised by a woman at moderator's table.