By Ilene H. Lang
President, CEO, Catalyst

As President and CEO of Catalyst, an organization with a mission of expanding opportunities for women and business, I am honored to contribute an introduction to PDJ’s WomenWorthWatching issue-especially because this year’s theme is education. Education is fundamental to women’s advancement into leadership; after all, in their thirst for talent, employers know that they cannot afford to overlook women whose stellar academic credentials suit them for leadership positions in today’s complex global marketplace.

As I review the list of nearly 200 highly successful women featured in this issue, I am deeply impressed by the array of professions in which they excel, including law, nonprofit, finance, academia, industry, and technology. These talented women give us much to celebrate.

I’d also like to commend Profiles in Diversity Journal for its crucial work in highlighting women’s advancement over the past fourteen years. With each WomenWorthWatching issue, the list of women and companies deserving of celebration grows, showcasing how far professional women have come.

However, we must not lose sight of how much progress we have yet to make. For example, despite the fact that women in the United States and most developed countries are now outpacing men in earning bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorates, Catalyst research shows that as of 2011, only 14.1 percent of Executive Officers at Fortune 500 companies were women. And the gender gap is particularly notable in STEM fields: in the sciences, women represent only 21.6 percent of all managers.

Why do these gaps persist, regardless of women’s educational achievements? Sadly, the answer still boils down to gender bias: many of us continue to picture men when we hear “scientist,” “programmer,” “doctor,” or “CEO,” and unfortunately this has a real—albeit often unconscious—influence on decisions about recruitment, hiring, and promotion, particularly for senior roles.

One of the best ways to counter these biases—and to develop accomplished women graduates into accomplished leaders across all fields—is to showcase impressive women like those featured in this issue. Catalyst research continues to demonstrate how critical sponsors and role models are to advancement, and women establishing their careers today will benefit tremendously from these examples of women who have the achievements to inspire them, the experience to “show them the ropes” and the influence to guide them to plum assignments and promotions.

While education may not be the last step in advancing women to leadership, it remains an integral first step. These “women worth watching” have clearly benefited from both educational opportunities and career opportunities, with the help of mentors and sponsors who have rewarded their talents and diligence with support and encouragement. Now let’s bring those advantages to a new generation of women leaders, and finally close the gender gap—for the benefit of women, men, families, communities, businesses, and the global economy.