Women Struggle to Make It as Leaders, Says the White House Project

In terms of sheer numbers, women now surpass men in the work force, but they're still lagging far behind their male peers when it comes to cracking those glass ceilings.

Women account for just 18 percent of top leadership roles in 10 sectors, including business, nonprofit groups, law and religion, according to the new report, "Benchmarking Women's Leadership."

"Women's leadership is stuck in every sector of American society at a time when we need their innovation ... when we need their talent, and the research tells us [to] bring in the women if you want to change things," said Marie Wilson, president of The White House Project, the nonprofit organization in New York that produced the report.

VIDEO: A study finds that women hold only 18 percent of top leadership positions.
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As many as 90 percent of women and men report being ready to see women in charge. At the same time, people also believe that both sexes are "already leading equally," which is a misconception, according to the report.

It takes 33 percent of women in top positions for change to occur in the workplace, Wilson said.

"A third women makes it [seem] normal for women to be there," Wilson said in an interview with ABC News' Bianna Golodryga. "A third women makes sure that you focus on the agenda and not gender. A third women actually allows women to be themselves and men to be themselves. And what we are looking for is enough women leading alongside men so that both of us can contribute equally.

Glamour Magazine's Women of the Year 2009

"I'd really like 50 percent," Wilson added. "But 33 [percent] really gives us the edge."

In pockets of corporate America, it's far below that number. Among the Fortune 500 companies, only 66 have females on their boards, according to the report. In the corporate ranks, women are known for promoting greater transparency and for being more averse to risk. The bottom line, too, gets a boost when women are at the top. For instance, there's a 34 percent greater return on equity and shareholders' investment, according to the report.

VIDEO: Maria Shriver and Meghan McCain discuss women in business
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This has prompted some firms to consider putting more money in the hands of women.

"You are now having a fund started to invest in companies that have more women on their boards because that is the way to actually be more successful -- innovation and as well as money," Wilson said.

Government's Part in Making Progress

Government can play a pivotal role in continuing to move society forward by encouraging companies to hire women and join company boards, Wilson said.

"I'm guessing … that there will be something that comes out that is either punishing or giving enticements, like tax incentives … for people who diversify the boards," she said.

Wilson, who has spent her career in the nonprofit sector, can't get over how far behind her sector is in achieving parity among the genders, considering women make up 75 percent of the nonprofit staff. Just one in 10 women are in upper management, while one in five men have top leadership posts, according to the report.

In nonprofit groups, Wilson said, "women still are not earning salary that begins to touch the salary of a man and ... they are still not in leadership in the biggest not-for-profits in America. It's the size of the statistic that gets me."

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