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

At colleges and universities, where women often expect to lead because they outnumber men, the experience is similar. Wilson noted that there hasn't been a new woman president at a college in the past 10 years, and claimed women faculty members' paychecks haven't increased.

In math and science, where there aren't as many women, Marissa Mayer, a vice president at Google, has made her mark. Just this week, she was honored in New York as one of Glamour magazine's women of the year for her part in making Google the No 1. search engine.

Mayer doesn't get caught up in the male/female divide in the workplace.

"I think of myself as a geek there, as a computer scientist, and that's just great, but really it's about passion," she told Golodryga. "We are interested in trying to help people organize information, build new interesting things, trying to innovate. I think that's the common thread that pulls the experience together for me, as opposed to being a woman."

Even so, building a strong community of women is a priority at Google, she said. Women At Google brings in inspirational women to give talks. Big names have included Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Diane Von Furstenberg. A day care program for children of Google employees helps mothers make the transition back to work.

New Opportunities for Women to Lead

But in certain industries, the dearth of women is pronounced. The oil, auto and banking industries, as well as the U.S. presidency, have never had women at the helm. At this point, the industry that's likely to be first to have a female CEO is banking, Wilson said.

"When I started looking at female leadership, a friend of mine from Ghana said that when things get messy, we get to clean up, and I think the banks may be the messiest," Wilson said.

The economic crisis presents a special opportunity for women to rise to the top, Wilson said. It's up to society to make the changes so girls can make it there, she added.

"I want little girls to know that they can reach the top, but I want big, grown men and women right now to make sure that I'm telling them the truth," she said, "because again, we have an opportunity to put enough women in power to where a little girl can grow up and start to lead."

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