03/22/2012 11:26 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Where Are the Leaders for Women, Not Just Women Leaders?

As we're contemplating the state of girls and women, one of the easiest indicators is to look at the representation of women in political office. But as I've traveled around this month, speaking and listening, one of my most deeply felt questions continues to be this: Where are those leaders who lead for women?

This question was brought to life for me as I interviewed Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on stage at the much-publicized Women in the World Summit. Nancy, after all, is a woman who not only possesses the double X chromosomal combination too rare in the halls of power in Washington these days, but leads with a fierce commitment to women's rights to boot.

You see, it's not enough to be a woman leader in my opinion; one must also lead for women. What do I mean? That women have to vote for and advocate for only women's issues? Of course not. But when women's rights are at stake and when women's stories need to be heard, shouldn't we expect women with power to use it to lead efforts to protect rights and to fight for gender justice and equity across all sectors?

I don't need to belabor the point, but gender parity in the U.S. government is pathetic: In the current Congress, only 16% of seats are held by women. The U.S. ranks #69 among countries with the highest percentage of women in government. Countries that have a higher percentage of women include countries such as Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uganda.

But these statistics mask an even more complex reality about the state of women. It's not just about who is in office -- although the sheer power of representation is nice, as argued in Miss Representation. It's also about what people do once they're in office, or in the case of corporate leadership, whom they fight for and how they fight for them in the boardroom.

As the decades of my own advocacy on behalf of women pile up, I'm ever more convinced that women lead differently if given the chance to express our genuine styles, passions, and priorities. Whether it's the head of a multinational bank, weighing what kinds of financial products to offer, at what price points, with what kind of marketing materials, or the Speaker of the House keeping order in one of the least civil places left in America, women are inclined to do it differently.

And we must. After all, you don't get to be part of the club by chromosome alone. You belong based on your actions on behalf of real women's lives.