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Before I explain what it is, I want to tell you about Leith Greenslade, a mom of three daughters (ages 12, 10, and 8) and vice chair at the MDG Health Alliance, an initiative in support of the UN Secretary General's Every Woman, Every Child movement. Last May, she gave a presentation at Moms+ Social Good in which she discussed the low numbers of mothers in positions of power. (Did you know that of the 50 most powerful companies in the world, only 3 were run by moms last year?) She vowed to look into the statistics in a detailed way, creating a trackable list.

One year later, on May 1, Greenslade launched the Motherhood+Public Power Index. It took a solid four months' worth of number-crunching in her "spare" time to learn how many U.S. moms held powerful positions, and the results were startling.

  • Of the top 40 leaders in government, 5 are mothers. (33 are dads; the rest are not parents.)
  • Of the top 40 college presidents, 9 are moms. (27 are fathers.)
  • Of the top 40 CEOs, 4 are moms. (35 are dads.)
  • Of the top 40 religious leaders, 5 are moms. (27 are fathers.)

"I knew the number of mothers would be bad, because the number of women in these positions is already low. But I was surprised by how bad it was," explains Greenslade. (You can see exactly who these mothers are, and where they work, here.) Mothers make up 40 percent of the U.S. population, but we hold 14 percent of powerful positions. Fathers also make up 40 percent of our population—but they hold 80 percent of powerful positions. "And these aren't men with one or two children," Greenslade explains. "Many of these fathers have three or four children, or more. Moms with lots of kids do not rise, but dads with lots of kids do well."

Here's her larger point: These men are the ones making the laws and policies that determine how the workplace functions. (See: our embarrassing family-leave policies; our lack of affordable childcare; our still-too-rare flextime schedules.)  "We can't expect them to really understand the constraints that ordinary working women face," she says. "They don't have any clue how we live."

To that end, Greenslade has an ambitious goal: to get 30 percent of mothers in positions of power. "I know if we do that there will be a total transformation in the workplace and women will be able to shuffle between our two worlds," she says. "I'm trying to create a movement where mothers feel supported and valued, and they don't have to withdraw from the workplace when they feel they just can't do it anymore."

You're probably thinking, "Great idea. But how do I help make that happen?" And now we come to the best thing moms can do for one another: We can create an environment that fosters and supports leadership among women in any form. Greenslade has outlined some very manageable ways to do that:

  • Get people fired up about the Index. Women and men, moms and dads. Share the numbers with your friends, your coworkers, the organizations you belong to, and your social networks.
  • Talk to your children about the disparity in the number of mom leaders and dad leaders. You can bring it to their level, pointing out, perhaps, how many (or how few) principals or superintendents in your school district are mothers.
  • Find the moms in power in your circle and tell them you've got their back, whether via email or a supportive shout-out on social media. (You can also broaden this to the women Greenslade named in her report.) Talk about them to your fellow moms.
  • Take any opportunity you can to lead. Maybe that means being a class mom, or running a PTA committee, or teaching your kid's religious ed class, or raising your hand the next time your boss is looking for someone to preside over a task force at work.

Next up for Greenslade is to create a Motherhood+Public Power Index for China, Brazil, Russia, and India. And she'll update the U.S. index every year, just before Mother's Day. If we all do our part, whether big or small, those pitiful numbers just might start to grow.

Kara Corridan has two daughters, 6 and 9. She's regretting not volunteering for any PTA committees this year.

Photo via Shutterstock.