If Harvard does as expected and appoints its first female president this weekend, there will be few groundbreaking "firsts" American women have left to achieve in the political, academic, or corporate worlds.
A female Senate majority leader? Not yet, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi exploded onto the national political stage after last November's elections to become the first female speaker of the House. The nation has yet to elect a woman as president (or even vice president), but Washington is awash in talk that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has a lock on the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and a fair shot at winning the general election as well.
We've had female astronauts (in the case of Lisa Nowak, it's questionable whether that's a good thing), female U.S. senators, and female governorseven big-state governors like Democrat Janet Napolitano of Arizona and her Republican predecessor Jane Hull, the late Ann Richards of Texas, and Jennifer Granholm of Michigan.
A number of women already lead Ivy League Institutions. The University of Pennsylvania "paved the way ... when Judith Rodin took the spot in 1994. Since then, some of the university's top-tier counterparts, like Princeton and Brown universities, have followed suit with women presidents of their own."
Last year's Fortune 500 List included 10 companies run by women. But none of those companies were among the Fortune 100.
Women's breakthrough into the top ranks of American leadership, whether political, academic, or corporate, has taken longer than many would have expected during the heady years of second-wave feminism, some 3 ½ decades ago.
When we lag behind countries great and small, including Liberia, which elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirlief last year, and Great Britain, led by Margaret Thatcher from 1979 to 1990, it makes one pause to consider whether Americans are really as advanced as we believe ourselves to be.
How great are we when tiny Sri Lanka broke the women's leadership barrier almost 50 years ago? Sirivamo Bandaranaike became the first female elected premier in 1960.
We're well past the time when gender diversity trumps talent as a job selection or promotion mechanism. That said, as a nation of 300 million citizens, more than half of whom are women, one can wonder why those barriers were so long in coming down.