03/21/2012 11:45 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Are the Real Drivers of Gender Justice?

Yesterday I wondered about our continued resistance to quotas, one of the potential levers for fast, observable change. Today, I’d like to look at a related question about the true pathways to parity: What are the real drivers of gender justice?

Because we’re so good at studying women’s lives, we know  without a doubt that something goes awry between graduation day and payday. Young women graduate at unprecedented levels with reportedly high aspirations to seize leadership opportunities and make the world a better place, and then somewhere along the way the vast majority of them get waylaid, side tracked, kicked off, or who knows what else before their big leadership payoff arrives.

There are lots of interesting answers to what really drives gender equity. Some people say entrepreneurship, and indeed, the numbers there are good. Between 1997 and 2011, the number of women-owned firms increased by 50 percent! Some say better education for girls. That we know. We’re getting better at educating girls in some places, but huge barriers remain for girls trying to go to school and stay in school in too many places still. Some say economic empowerment. There’s no question that having access to financial resources helps keep women less vulnerable to what my friend, philanthropist and changemaker Jacki Zehner, calls “capital punishment.”

It’s all of these things and more, of course. But perhaps one of the most powerful and misunderstood drivers of gender justice is this: women’s leadership. That's why we have to figure out the "missing women" at the top. Where are they going instead? Why are they not getting to the corner office? What can be done to encourage more to stay in the game or to run for elected leadership? I’ll tackle that big can o’ worms tomorrow.