Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before. It’s important to say it over and over.
The good news is that the percentage of women moving into the C-Suite is increasing. The bad news is that the movement is proceeding at a snail’s pace.
A majority of men and women agree that gender plays no role in a person’s ability to lead a business. Nothing new there! According to a recent Pew Research survey, 80% of men and women surveyed said that neither men nor women have leadership styles that make them more successful in business. In fact, about a third of adults (31%) said top female executives might be more honest and ethical than male execs.
There are even benefits to having more female leaders, according to the survey. About three-in-ten Americans surveyed said that having more women leaders in both business and government would improve the quality of life for women across the country.
But Pew’s study also shows that, while men and women may believe female leaders are just as qualified as their male peers, certain stigmas still persist. 2015 was not the year of the woman CEO as globally the share of incoming women CEOS fell to less than 3%, the lowest percentage since 2011. Out of the 359 brand new CEOs in 2015, exactly 10 women were chosen to lead corporations. The news was even worse in the U.S. and Canada where the share of incoming women CEOs fell for the third year to the lowest in the study’s history. Surprisingly, there was just one woman among the total 87 incoming CEOs in the U.S. and Canada last year (1 percent, compared to 4 percent in 2014 and over 7 percent in 2012).
And only 19% of those companies’ have women on their boards!
Even more interesting is the fact that female CEOs are more often hired from outside the company than male CEOs are. Thirty two percent of all incoming and outgoing female CEOs from 2004-2015 were outsiders compared to just 23 percent of males CEOs. According to Strategy&, women CEOs are more often hired from outside the company which indicates that companies have not been cultivating enough female senior executives in-house. The bad news is that they are not being recognized within their own organizations. The good news is that more companies who consider outsiders will improve the chances for women to become CEOs.
A February 2016 study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a nonprofit group based in Washington, DC, and EY found that despite the apparent economic benefits, many corporations still lack gender diversity. Almost 60 percent of the companies reviewed had no female board members, more than 50 percent had no female executives, and less than 5 percent had a female chief executive.
The study found that female CEOs performed about as well as male chief executives. But the more interesting fact is that having more women on boards correlated with higher profitability.
The data was very clear regarding women in top management positions: an increase in the share of women from zero to 30 percent would be associated with a 15 percent rise in profitability.
So, what is keeping women out of the C-Suite?
Dan Cassino, a Fairleigh Dickinson University political scientist, found in a recent study that a perceived threat to male identity and masculinity may play a role in America’s politics. Although he focused on the current political scene, is it much of a stretch to apply his findings as an explanation for why women are generally relegated to the lower rungs of the organizational ladder?
Cassino says that there is a belief, conscious or subconscious, that “…white men used to run everything and now we don’t and that’s terrible.” While he is speaking of the legislative arena, don’t we also see this unspoken belief playing out in the workplace as well?
By recognizing that women in decision-making positions can add significant value to an organization – and to the bottom line – organizations will be taking a substantial step toward a more realistic view of the business world, the leadership talent pool, and the marketplace. It will also be filling the executive pipeline with women whose perspectives can bring innovative solutions to business challenges.
Organizations should begin by reviewing their hiring and promotion policies. Are they gender neutral? Does merit drive those decisions? Is talent being developed properly?
Progressive organizations are embracing the notion of both mentoring and sponsoring future female leaders. Mentoring has historically been recognized as a successful training tool and a way to identify future leaders. But mentees could languish in middle management unless there is also an understanding that a sponsor – someone who will make a recommendation for promotion and otherwise support an upcoming female leader – plays an important, if not critical, role in an executive’s successful entry into the C-Suite.
For women, it is becoming increasingly important to identify the appropriate work environment when researching future employers. Are women represented in leadership positions, on the board or in key operating positions?
As a woman with leadership aspirations, are you prepared to step up and take on challenging, even risky, assignments? Do you fully understand – and can you work within – the current workplace environment…and work toward building a more “gender neutral” climate?
Creating greater gender balance in the C-Suite is a two-way street. But currently, there are more men driving that route.
Jan Molino is the CEO & Managing Partner of Aspire Ascend, a service provider and member-based organization, that helps women advance toward leadership. She is an experienced speaker and facilitated numerous forums and panel discussions on this subject. Jan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.