Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, made news in 2015 but it wasn’t to announce a technology breakthrough. Rather it was because of a statement on the subject of women and pay raises. Essentially, his message was: don’t ask, trust that the system will give you the appropriate raise. “That’s good karma,” he told an audience of women at a conference.
He immediately reversed himself publicly and sent a clarifying e-mail to Microsoft employees. But, to me, that change of direction was more guidance from his communications advisers than an adjustment to Nadella’s CEO compass.
I’m not picking on Mr. Nadella but he is a high-profile CEO whose mindset, statistics show, is mirrored by most American C-suite executives…the majority of them male who may not see the three areas where the gender gap manifests itself most:
Because they earn almost 60% of undergraduate degrees and 60% of all master’s degrees, 47% of all law degrees and over 44% of master’s degrees in business and management, women are well prepared to assume leadership positions. They are 47% of the U.S. labor force, and 59% of the college-educated, entry-level workforce.
But here are other, less attractive, numbers for your consideration: Women control more than 80% of U.S. consumer spending yet are only 14.6% of executive officers, 8.1% of top earners, and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs. They hold just 16.9% of Fortune 500 board seats.
At about the same time that Nadella was in the media spotlight, tucked away in the back of the business section was the story of another major corporate CEO moving his organization in a different, and to my mind, more progressive direction.
Glenn Murphy, who stepped down as GAP’s CEO in 2015 next, is credited with reversing the company’s tanking fortunes since taking the top spot in 2007. His highly visible and successful moves include redesigning its stores, buying new brands and enhancing GAP’s online and international presence. But his most lasting contribution may be his actions promoting equal pay practices and increasing the percentage of women in leadership roles. Currently 60% of GAP’s director-level and half of its vice presidents are women.
Is there a correlation between GAP’s recognition that women can offer a unique perspective to the strategy-developing, policy-setting process and bottom line success? I believe there is.
So, why aren’t there more women in leadership positions?
One explanation is sex discrimination, which certainly exists. But another more nuanced explanation is that the current male-driven leadership ranks don’t recognize the alternate views women offer as a positive contribution to organizational success. And, even when they do, it’s a rare organization that takes the time and makes the effort to identify and mentor future women leaders and incorporate their unique views into business planning.
The median age of an S&P chief executive is 55, while the average age of a director is 62. And, it is a male-dominated universe. The very women’s values and perspectives that GAP has so successfully tapped into are not generally understood or accepted by this male-dominated corporate culture. So, women who succeed in that culture must adapt to it. They recognize the need to think and act more like men to rise to the top.
But, women influence or directly make the majority of household purchases. They have very specific buying patterns and preferences. So having both women and men in decision-making roles gives organizations greater marketplace insights needed to increase sales and drive growth.
I suggest the key to greater gender balance in the workforce is greater enlightenment by the current male-led C-suite population. At a time when income inequality and women in leadership – including the prospect of a woman in the Oval Office – are getting heavy media coverage can growth-oriented, success-driven organizations afford to turn blind eyes to these issues?
Embracing an inclusive corporate culture, realigning job descriptions and incentive plans to encourage recognition of women’s contributions and rewarding team-building that includes women’s input are necessary steps along the road to enhancing gender balance and achieving greater organizational success.
Since moving forward with its progressive actions, GAP has seen a 24% increase in job applications and, over the past five years, almost a $2B jump in revenues.
Greater gender balance isn’t only good practice, it’s good business.
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.
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