Common sense, backed by research, tells us companies, large and small, are more likely to thrive when women comprise a healthy portion of top leadership positions. Moreover, women are the primary decision-makers for family purchases and women are half the buying public.
Yet, deep-seated gender bias and assumptions about motives, intentions, expectations and roles in society are difficult to overcome.
Sifting through the stats
The 2014 Catalyst Census: Women Board Directors reports the share of women’s seats on boards of Standard & Poor’s 500 index companies stands at 19.2 percent (parity is 50 percent). Eighteen companies have no women directors, but the good news is that 113 companies have 25 percent or more — including 12 boards on which women hold 40 percent or more seats.
InterOrganization Network casts a wider net with its 2014 census. Among Russell 3000 companies, women have only 13 percent of executive officer positions and board seats. In fact, 897 of Russell 3000 index companies have no women in those ranks, and 31 companies with no women represented on their boards are in the Fortune 500.
Carmen Nobel reported in her Harvard Business School Working Knowledge post “Few Women on Boards: Is There a Fix?” that men say “lack of women in the executive rank” is the top reason the percentage of women on boards has remained fairly stagnant over the past decade. Women contend “traditional networks tend to be male-oriented” so women struggle to develop the contacts necessary to achieve board positions.
On the cusp
There are, however, many encouraging signs. Media focus on women’s leadership has increased, particularly after Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg published the book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” and established Lean In Circles across the country.
Also, more than 600 sources of board education and certification programs for women are available, and campaigns to increase the numbers of women in the C-Suite and on corporate boards have accelerated.
In addition to the work of Catalyst and ION, other organization examples include Vision 2020: Equality in Sight, whose goal is to achieve women’s economic and social equality by 2020; the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote; 2020 Women on Boards, which strives for 20 percent by 2020; and the 30 Percent Club, which is among the most promising efforts yet.
Founded in the United Kingdom in 2010 for CEOs and chairs by Helena Morrissey, the 30 Percent Club’s core belief statement emphasizes that the 30 Percent Club is a “collaborative and constructive effort; it is not a diversity business.”
Expanding to the U.S. in 2014, Warren Buffett, Sandberg, Mike Corbat (CEO of Citigroup), Rick Haythornthwaite (chairman of MasterCard) and Punit Renjen (chairman of Deloitte), are among the approximately 50 key CEO/chair supporters.
We appear to be on the cusp of making significant progress. It will take skillful relationship building, honesty and transparency among all stakeholders to achieve the goal of full participation in our nation’s highest leadership roles in the private and public sectors.
Stephen Covey said it best: “An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.”