By Thomas Higginbotham

There are 12,600 pilots in the United States Air Force, only 713 of which are female – a miserly 5.6%. The first female entered pilot training in 1976, but in the 40 years since then there has been very little progress for gender inclusivity in the career field. Meanwhile, we learned at the Milken Global Conference that there are as many CEOs named “John” on the Fortune 500 list, as there are female CEOs in that same group (just 5.4%). As America struggles for gender inclusivity, much of the developing world lacks the fundamental institution of gender equality. Gender equality, however, is more than just a localized concern for the military or the private industry; it is a fundamental democratic institution at war in 2018.

With the same spirit of the “fearless girl” statue, the 2018 Milken Institute Global Conference was full of women making significant impacts on the world. Telenia Phua Gajardo, a 33-year-old founder of two companies and CEO of The Artling, and Blair Ding, a 25-year- old Oxford educated member of the Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 list, are two promising women I was honored to get to know at the Global Conference. They follow the footsteps of women like Susan Eisenhower, Chairman and CEO of the Eisenhower Group, and Monica Mandelli, Director of Latin American Investments for the global investment firm, KKR, and Former Congresswoman, Jane Harman, who have all made incredible contributions to the world.

“Navigating a world in transition”, the theme for this year’s conference, means the United States military must follow these examples and take strides to support gender inclusivity at every level of leadership and service. The MLC’s very own Meghan Wilkens breaks the mold of the typical Navy Supply Officer and is a vital member of our group, but we should and will certainly do more to encourage women to join MLC. Gender disparity permeates every social sphere and industry around the world but it was only one of many important conversations at the 2018 Milken Global Conference. All of the sessions are available on the Milken Institute website, but if this or other conversations from the Global Conference interest you, please reach out to the Military Leadership Circle for information about applying for the class of 2019.

Captain Thomas Higginbotham is an instructor in the F-15E with the 333rd Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. He has a Master’s in Public Administration from Villanova University where he co- authors a paper on financial risk management for state and local governments.

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