Why EVERYONE Should Care About Women’s Leadership
By Juliette Mayers, CEO, Inspiration Zone LLC
It’s been the Year of the Woman. The Women’s March. #MeToo. Increasing numbers of women running for office and winning. The championing of a culture of equality.
In Massachusetts, of 38 outstanding women candidates from across the Commonwealth supported by the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, 29 won seats and are today in leadership positions as mayors, city councilors, select-women and school committee members. Congratulations to them all!
AND in early 2017, Emily’s List – an organization that supports women candidates – reported that they had heard from more than 11,000 women across all 50 states who are interested in running for office. During the 2016 cycle, that number was approximately 900.
Why are these gains important? It’s about hope and opportunity and building better lives. It’s about health care and living wages, sexual harassment and gun control, child care and the environment. Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Women’s Alliance, said in a New York Times article: “I think that women are driving and leading a transformation in American and civic life and culture that is unendingly hopeful.”
CHALLENGES IN THE WORKPLACE
But while women are advancing in the political arena, numbers show that women leaders in the corporate and professional world still struggle to gain a foothold. Why are their efforts so important? Why should EVERYONE care about women’s leadership in the corporate world?
Online publication “Take the Lead” asked leaders across all sectors that question. Here are some nuggets of wisdom that resonate:
- Janet Riccio, Executive Vice President, Omnicom Group: “The qualities that are required to lead in the 21st century include the ability to connect, collaborate, empathize and communicate – all qualities that tend to be “female” in nature. Women in leadership roles position organizations in ways that make them fit for the future.”
- Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University: “Because the world has been without the full benefit of the talent, creativity and ideas of half its population for far too long.”
- Sheryl Sanders, COO, FACEBOOK, Founder & Board Chair, LEAN IN: “Real equality in the workplace and the home will make all of us better off. When we use the full talents of the population, our countries and companies are more productive.”
THE DATA SPEAKS
Women account for 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, 49 percent of the college-educated workforce and hold almost 52 percent of professional-level jobs. When it comes to leadership positions, women continue to lag behind men. According to a 2017 Center for American Progress report entitled “The Women’s Leadership Gap,” labor market data from 2015 shows the following:
- While women are 44 percent of the overall S&P 500 labor force, they are only 25 percent of executive and senior-level officials and managers, hold only 20 percent of board seats, and are only 6 percent of CEOs.
- In law offices, they are 45 percent of associates but only 22 percent of partners.
- In medicine, they comprise 37 percent of physicians and surgeons but only 16 percent of permanent medical school deans.
- In academia, they are only 31 percent of full professors and 27 percent of college presidents.
WOMEN OF COLOR FACE A WIDER GAP
The representation of women of color in corporate leadership roles is even worse, as documented in “Women’s Leadership by the Numbers,” posted May 17, 2017 in The Women’s Leadership Gap. Women of color were 38 percent of the nation’s female population and 20 percent of the entire population in 2015. They made up 35 percent of the female workforce, 16 percent of the total labor force, and 16.5 percent of workers in S&P 500 companies.
- Women of color were only 3.9 percent of executive or senior-level officials and managers and 0.4 percent of CEOs in S&P 500 companies in 2015.
- In 2017, after the departure of Ursula Burns as CEO of Xerox Corp., there were no African American women heading Fortune 500 companies.
- As recently as 2013, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies had no women of color as board directors.
GLIMMERS OF HOPE
In addition to the political gains mentioned earlier in this article, organizations like The Boston Club, 2020 Women on Boards, Get Konnected, Conexion, Catalyst, Diversity Inc. and The Partnership Inc. are striving to address issues of equity and diversity. Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Baker, has signed an equal pay bill into law and the state’s pay-equity law takes effect July 1, 2018. Bold actions are required by leaders in other areas.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
- Examine biases: Each and every leader can take action by examining biases and practices that may be getting in the way. Beyond self-reflection and organizational reviews, ACTION is required. Leaders do not need to have all of the answers. However, we all must examine our roles and the important changes that are within our sphere of influence. For example, how “comfortable” are you with young professionals? Do you hold assumptions that would immediately eliminate them for consideration on important task forces? Once we examine our biases, we can then take conscious inclusive actions, such as inviting young professionals to participate in stretch assignments. Furthermore, we can build professional relationships across differences by being intentional.
- Decrease the “comfort factor” for Boards of Directors: With regard to corporate boards, I personally believe that significant gains can be made when leaders have the courage to face their board biases. The onus is not just on white males. For the women who have made it, there needs to be shared responsibility for helping to advance other women. While external pressure from organizations like “2020 Women on Boards” is good, internal pressure from women with extensive board experience, can help to accelerate change. The irony is that most boards strive for collegiality and comfort among board members. Yet most of us are “uncomfortable” with people who are different, presenting a major hurdle, as inviting “difference” decreases the “comfort factor.” This means that leaders must stretch beyond their comfort zones in order to create an inclusive welcoming climate as they work to build diverse boards with a mission that fosters a culture of equality for the workforce.
“Something amazing happens when you have three or more women on a company board,” said a Huffington Post (HP) headline on March 8, 2018, International Women’s Day. HP reported that financial planning firm MSCI researched more than 600 companies in 23 developed markets and found that “having three or more women on a company’s board of directors helps companies perform better financially.” The research showed that a more diverse workforce and board of directors leads to a greater diversity of ideas. In addition, it revealed that companies using a combination of “talent management” – practices that help attract, retain and develop its workforce – AND have three or more women on their boards over the course of three years saw a growth in employee productivity that was 1.2 percentage points above the medians in their industries. In contrast, those with mostly male boards and “lagging” talent management practices saw employee productivity levels that were 1.2 percentage points below industry medians.
- Focus on developing and mentoring talent at all levels: Leaders – men and women – must foster opportunity and potential in the workplace. Women employees need to seize the opportunity to showcase their breadth and depth of talent and experience. Waiting to be asked hasn’t worked very well. It is essential that women identify and create opportunities and make “the ask.” Mentoring is essential for women who often are left out of informal male-dominated networks. Mentors and sponsors – men and women – play a critical role through introductions, advocacy and sponsorship. These leaders can take action by supporting mentoring programs for ALL employees and by including women in the talent pool for sponsorship. Leaders must be ambassadors of change by leveraging their political capital to help others succeed. It is important to support mentoring and development programs and demonstrate commitment through active engagement and participation.
- Cultivate an inclusive culture: Leadership teams must work to educate and engage the workforce and establish values and behaviors that the organization wishes to live by. Don’t offer personal development only for a “chosen few.” Broaden access to mentoring and development programs to include employees of every level and background. Leaders should develop an all-encompassing culture that is focused on helping EVERYONE build on capabilities and grow. Encourage and support Employee Resource Groups in substantive ways such as development programs, challenging assignments that are aligned with business goals and visible participation of executive leaders. An inclusive culture is one in which employees feel valued and respected at all levels of the organization. It goes beyond implementing programs to ensuring accountability through KPIs and compensation structures.
- Examine organizational practices and programs. While engagement surveys and focus groups are great, real learning is accelerated through personal connections and experiences. Include women in networking activities. Networking should not just be externally focused. Leaders must make it their business to get to know people who are different in all aspects of the word including gender. Strategic networking is a key skill-set that must be utilized to support the growth and advancement of talent. Inclusive leadership requires the development of skills and competencies that benefit the entire organization including board members and individual employees.
Paving the way for women benefits the entire workforce and the community. Leaders must take the initiative to start and sustain culture change within their spheres of influence and the courage to disrupt the status quo and create a “new normal” – one where equity is the norm in the workplace and in the boardroom.
Juliette Mayers is an award-winning author, speaker and founder of Inspiration Zone LLC. Visit www.inspirationzonellc.com and www.juliettemayers.com. Follow @juliettemayers.
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