Pomp and circumstance. Ceremonial bells. African drums. Processions of bright colors including those representing academic expertise, past historic landmarks. Concert choir selections. I absolutely love pretty much everything about university ceremonies, especially at historically black colleges and universities. So when President Beverly Hogan and Ms. Doris Bridgeman, the Director of Alumni Affairs for Tougaloo College, asked me to serve as a delegate for my alma mater at the Investiture of Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice as the sixth president of Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), I didn’t blink an eye before saying “of course.”
Yesterday, I donned my own gown and hood, and I joined delegates representing many other colleges and universities, Morehouse School of Medicine Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, alumni, students, and other supporters for the Investiture Ceremony. It was a beautiful ceremony with several dignitaries and other woman pioneers on the program. You see, Dr. Rice is not only the first woman president of MSM; she’s the first African American woman to lead any freestanding medical school in the nation as CEO.
As I sat there surrounded by PhDs and MDs and dignitaries, I was blown away and once again inspired by the perseverance of people who have beaten the odds to make amazing and tangible strides. As I listened to women such as Gwendolyn Boyd, the first female president of Alabama State University; Alexis Herman, the 23rd U.S. Secretary of Labor and the first African American to head the U.S. Department of Labor; and Donna Hyland, President and CEO of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, I began to think about how many barriers women have broken and was inspired by their dynamic voices and presence. Always thinking about economic development, I started thinking about how many communities I’ve visited where diversity has been identified as an issue—not just racially or ethnically, but also as it relates to gender.
I won’t spend time in today’s post discussing how only 24 of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies have women as CEOs. Or how full-time working women earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Or how women are less likely to be self-employed. What I’d like to focus on is the significant progress that has been made over time. Did you know the following facts about women?
- On average, women (over the age of 25) are more likely to have completed high school than men. This is true for both white women compared to white men and black women compared to black men according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- A higher percentage of women hold associate degrees than men.
- A slightly higher percentage of women have earned bachelor’s degrees than men nationwide. However, when race and ethnicity are taken into account, a minimally lower percentage of white women have attained a four-year college degree than white men, while a larger percentage of black women have attained four-year degrees than black men.
- Men still lead women in graduate and professional degree attainment. However, a higher percentage of black women have completed post-graduate education than black men.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 50 years, immense improvements in educational attainment outcomes have occurred. Between 1962 and 2012, the percentage of women without a high school diploma has decreased by 40.5 percentage points. Over that same time period, the percentage of women who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree has increased by 23.9 percent.
- Although women are still less likely to be self-employed, women-owned businesses have grown rapidly during recent years. Between 2002 and 2007, women-owned businesses grew by 20.1 percent compared to growth in men-owned businesses of 5.5 percent.
- Although fewer than five percent of Fortune 500 companies have women as CEOs, it is important to remember that in 1995, there were no female CEOs in the Fortune 500.
Many communities are proactively encouraging the inclusion of women in various areas of the workforce. Several chambers support K-12 programs that expose women to STEM careers and technical careers, are becoming more cognizant of diversity on boards, and are working with area businesses to encourage diversity in the workplace. There is a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the workforce, but progress is being made. Maybe one day, it will be as apparent in everyday life as it can be at special ceremonies.
 “White” refers to white, not Hispanic.
 The 2012 Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners has not yet been published.