Seth Kahan
Author, consultant

Seth Kahan

Change expert and author who has advised executives in 50-plus organizations, including Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps and NASA. He can be reached at


It's about time

Q: The number of women ambassadors to the U.S. has grown dramatically in recent years -- a phenomenon that some attribute to female U.S. Secretaries of State, particularly Hillary Clinton. How important are trailblazers to the sucess of others? And if they are important, why didn't an earlier generation of women leaders like Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher lead to a surge of women in positions of political power?

Trailblazers are fundamental to Progress with a capital p. Without scouts, the avant-garde, pioneers and innovators, our world would still be back in the Stone Age.

Less than 100 years ago, the USA had not yet granted women the right to vote -- hard to believe in this day and age! On Aug. 26, 1920, the "Susan B. Anthony amendment," or 19th Amendment, became part of the U.S. Constitution. This was after being ratified by the required 36 states and after being passed in congress by a vote of 56 to 25 in the U.S. Senate -- not exactly unanimous. Thanks to those willing to spearhead this, putting their reputations on the line, we finally got the law on the books.

It is not well known that Susan B. Anthony voted in the 1872 presidential election, 48 years prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment, along with a handful of other women in an organized action. She was arrested three weeks later and tried. She was 52 at the time.

The court fined her $100 plus the cost of the prosecution. Anthony replied: "May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper -- The Revolution -- four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your manmade, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government; and I shall work on with might and main to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that 'Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.'"

Without Susan B. Anthony and a plethora of other visionaries that included the slave, Sojourner Truth, Alice Stone Blackwell, Mary Church Terrell, and Carrie Chapman Catt, it is hard to know where we would be today.

And here we are, with a steady rise of women in leadership positions. Recent growth in the number of women leaders is a welcome sign that we will soon be over this hurdle and benefiting from a more just and evenly distributed cadre when it comes to leadership, a time when people everywhere will be judged by the quality of their performance and not their gender, race, or some other trait that does not belong in the criteria of what it takes to be a good leader.

Why hasn't it happened sooner, you want to know? I ask, why has it taken so long? In any case, it's about time!

By Seth Kahan  |  January 18, 2010; 12:01 AM ET  | Category:  women Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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