'This Week': Shattering the Glass Ceiling

Carly Fiorina, Col. Jeannie Leavitt, Liza Mundy, and Reshma Saujani on women and leadership.
3:00 | 01/12/14

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Transcript for 'This Week': Shattering the Glass Ceiling
♪ ♪ I was very honored that the nasa chose me to be the first woman. I guess it's a momentous day in my life. There are no doors we cannot unlock. Historic firsts for women throughout the years. And 2014 is no exception. Two more women jumping into the national spotlight just this week. Our expert panel weighs in shortly, but first, here's abc's rebecca jarvis. I'd like to introduce your new ceo -- Reporter: Mary barra becoming the first woman to run a car company. Making general motors the largest female-led business in america. I do. Please be seated. Reporter: And janet yellen confirmed this week as head of the federal reserve, making her the most powerful person in charge of our nation's economy. Both mary barra and janet yellen don't have errors, they get the job done. Reporter: Barra, a home grown stanlt who started at gm in 1980 expecting pontiacs off the assembly line. It's in my blood. Reporter: Since then, she's become a force in gm. Overseeing manufacturing and overhauling the car design. Fortune naming her one of the 50 most powerful women in business. Barra, one of just 23 females running fortune 500 companies. Joining women like hewlett packard's meg whit man, marissa meyer and ursula burns. What do they have in common? They're not the girly companies. A woman running the largest auto maker. Women running america's two largest tech companies. We have women running two of the largest defense companies. Reporter: And now 100 years after it was founded, the federal reserve getting its first female leader, janet yellen. Earned a ph.D. From yale, and went on to run the san francisco fed where she famously flagged concerns about subprime mortgages. It's the classic story of how a very smart woman gets ahead. Keep your head down, disagree quietly, don't look to get press about it. Reporter: Until now, when y yellen and barra both step into the national spotlight. For this week, rebecca jarvis, abc news, new york. Thanks to rebecca. Dig in now with the experts this morning. Liza mundy, author of the richer sex, reshma saujani, founder of girl who is code and author of women who don't wait in line. Carly fiorina, former chairman and ceo of hewlett packard. And lcolonel jeannie leavitt. The first female fighter pilot and wing commander overseeing about 5,000 people. Jeannie leavitt, allowed me to be the backseat driver on a flight recently in her f-15. Thanks for that, it was thrilling. Carly, I want to start with you. When you were named the ceo of hewlett packard, there were SEVEN FEMALE CEOs IN THE FORTUNE 500. That's correct. What happens now? Clearly there's been progress. I was the first woman to lead a fortune 50. There were only seven. Now there are 23. And you have women assuming absolute top positions of power and authority in industries and politics as well. And yet, the data overall hasn't shifted much. For example, we have less than 20% of elected officials are women, less than 20% of corporate officers are women, that number hasn't changed in decades. And women remain the most underutilized resource in the world and the most subjugated people in the world. 70% of the people in abject poverty are women. While there's great progress on the one hand, there's insignificant progress on the other. We have to change our mind set. This is no longer simply about equality or diversity or inclusive witness, although that's important. It's enlightened self-interest. Women are an underutilized resource. We need all the brain power, smarts and heart we can get to capture our opportunities and solve the problems. When women are not fully utilized, as we clearly still are not, we're leaving opportunity on the table and we're leaving problems unsolved. Colonel jeannie leavitt, i want to go to you, there's no profession that could have been harder to break into than the fighter community. Te testosterone, it was the era of the top gun movie, all that glamour. Listening to male leaders on the hill, they were saying this will ruin the military if we let female aviators in. Take you back 20 years when they presented you first to the press. I realize that not every person wanted this to happen. Some did, some didn't. But I realize it's pretty irrelevant. As much as you probably hate looking at those old hairdos, how did you do it? What was your mindset? I remember because I covered it back then. They were trotting you all out as these new great women. Men didn't like that so much in that community. You're right. There was a lot of resistance to women flying fighters. That community had been male-dominated for many, many years. There was a lot of resistance at first. They didn't want things to change. And that was the fear that everything was going to change and that women would be there just because they were women. I think the air force did a great job of opening up the opportunity, but not forcing women into that career field. So women had the opportunity, and if they were competent and had the abilities, they were able to go into that. That's what you did. You put your head down and flew airplanes. Absolutely. That's the advice you would give others, I'm sure. Go to you, and talking about moving forward, what's the biggest problem? Do we have to change how we talk about this? There have been great leaps for females. I think we need a new play book. I'm interested in whether mary barra is going to pick a successor that's a woman. Make her team more female. Women are powerful. 20 million of us make hiring decisions. Make up 60% of america's wealth, 85% of all consumer purchases made by women. 34% of middle-management. What are we going to do to up lift one another? We have to hire and promote one another. We have to vote for one another. We are the majority. And we have to start acting like the majority. I think that's the question. Because I really believe that sponsorship is the new feminism. What we do for one another. How we elevate one another's leadership. That's the difference. What has to happen as far as you're concerned ? I think what we see now with women being elevated to these top offices, is that we can accept now culturally women as leaders. That's a big change in the last 20 or 30 years, accepting women in top leadership and power. I think we have to look at what's going on in the middle areas and what's keeping women from reaching to the top. We need to engage men in the conversations -- and men in the housework. Men in the housework. A number of states are passing paid maternity and paternity laws so men are encouraged to get involved in the home and child rearing and child care from the very first stages. That changes the dynamics in the home permanently and enables women to spend time in the work force. 60% of the college and university students are female. And we need to harness this talent and training and preparation and education and keep women in the work force. Is there any part of you, when you look at the statistics, I think it's 15% female law partners, ands that a kind of a touchy question, are women avoiding that? Are women making these choices on purpose? Are they saying, you know what, I do want to divide my time. I want to have a richer, fuller life and not climb this ladder. I think it's true that women still have a heavier burden in terms of making those difficult choices around work-life balance. It's clearly true. But I also think that now what we're up against are the real powerful forces called the status quo. And the fact that people are more comfortable with people like themselves. So if you have a male power structure, men are more comfortable with people like them. Men. Women are still perceived as a greater risk. I think the most important thing is for women to be able to choose to have the opportunity to choose the life they truly want to live. Very quickly. Very quickly. What would you tell young women today? That you mentor? Quick advice. Do your best, don't take no for an answer. Just strive to reach your dreams. Fail fast, fail hard, fail often. Yeah, persevere, expect setbacks and don't blame yourself for the setbacks. Do the hard stuff. Take a risk, take a chance. And I would say keep a sense of humor. You have to. Thanks, everyone. And don't miss rebecca jarvis and her interview with mary barra on "gma" and "world news." We're back after this."World news." WE'RE BACK AFTER THIS.Test message Test Text1 underline

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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