Get On Board: Women Leaders Making Strides, But Is It Enough?

Two new major global research studies look at the participation of women on boards and in management.

Two new major global research studies look at the participation of women on boards and in management.

The move to parity for women in boardrooms internationally has advanced, but not fast enough and certainly not close enough to the mission of Take The Lead of parity by 2025. Two major new global analyses of women in management and the workplace point to strides achieved, but full parity still off in the horizon.

New research from Credit Suisse that includes data from more than 28,000 senior managers at over 3,000 companies actively covered by Credit Suisse analysts worldwide , shows that “Board diversity has increased in almost every country and every sector, progressing from 9.6 percent in 2010 to 12.7 percent at the end of 2013.”

The move to gender parity has advanced, but full parity is still far off #womenleaders

According to the report, researchers sought answers to these questions: “Do better companies hire more women, do women choose to work for more successful companies, or do women themselves help improve companies’ performance? The most likely answer is a combination of the three.”

Quotas did not work to achieve gender equity in these companies, the analysts reported. Rather, that initiated tokenism. Other obstacles to fair gender diversity they found were cultural biases, workplace-related biases; and structural/policy issues. Cultural biases were perhaps the most insidious and difficult to erase.

By country, the highest level of female participation on boards and the highest number of women leaders was seen in Norway, with 39.7 percent, followed by Sweden at 30.3 percent and France at 29.6 percent. The least was in Pakistan, with only 1.5 percent female participation on boards, and Japan, at 1.6 percent. In the U.S., female board participation holds at 13.7 percent.

Measuring the percentage of women leaders on boards by industry, the highest participation of women was in consumer staples at 16.3 percent, and the least in energy at 9.4 percent. Financials was also represented higher at 14.8 percent, with the average of all industries at 12.7 percent for female board participation.

Looking at the globe by region, the area with the greatest representation of women on boards is Europe, with 32.8 percent of the companies having representation between 20 and 30 percent. More than 19 percent of the companies had female board representation over 30 percent.

In North America, 186 percent of the companies studied had female board participation between 20 and 30 percent, with only 6 percent of the companies having more than 30 percent of their board positions held by women. The least egalitarian for women is Latin America, with only 1.2 percent of the companies there having women leaders on boards in more than 30 percent of the board positions.

Board positions comprise one level of measurement. Top management for women leaders is another.

“While we do not want to dismiss or belittle the change that has happened at the board level country by country, or its positive impact, we would feel more reassured if the presence of women at the board level was matched by their representation in top management,” the report states.

“The participation of women in top management tends to be skewed towards areas of less influence and with lower promotion opportunities. The Management Power Line shows the lowest female representation at the CEO level and growing gradually as we move from there toward Business Management and Operational roles, CFO and Strategy and finally Shared Services. We also find that female representation is higher in New Economy companies and in Non-Manual Labor (mostly services) companies,” the report states.

Women in media and real estate tend to hold the greatest number of management positions, at 23.2 percent and 20.1 percent of the top jobs. The lowest representation of women in CEO, CFO and operations management are in automobile categories at 2.3 percent and capital goods at 5.5. percent.

Women in media & real estate tend to hold the most management positions #womeninbiz

Examining all this data with an eye toward return on investment, the report found, “Adjusting for any industry bias, companies with more than 15 percent of women in top management carry a 2013 ROE of 14.7 percent compared to 9.7 percent for those where women represent less than 10 percent of the top management.”

The differences in status, job responsibilities, title and representation of women in boardrooms all contribute to a culture either of gender parity or of gender bias.

“While pay gaps are obvious where there are different skill levels, qualifications, hours etc., there can pay be no excuse for the stubborn underpaying of women for doing the same job. It is discrimination. It serves as an obstacle to commitment and progression; it is demoralizing and demeaning. But it is one of the easiest workplace biases to remove,” the report concluded.

A separate new report, “The Female Quotient,” from Atlantic Media, examines the history, context and progress of women in the workplace, concluding that at every level in the corporate pipeline, women are  under-represented. From entry level positions, with women filling 46 percent of the slots, compared to 54 percent men, it digresses to 19 percent of women reaching C-suite level jobs, while 81 percent of the men do the same.

As women leaders of multi-generational workplaces, the study suggests that holds major challenges on many front.

“The 21st century marks a first in workplace history, with four generations staffing most corporations today: 30-year-old Millennials are managing teams with 62-year-old Boomers, while 47-year-old

Gen Xers are using programs created by 19-year-old Gen Zs. Each generation brings with them distinct perspectives, life experiences and habits, leading to an era of either unprecedented innovation or extreme office tensions,” according to the report.

Managing teams nimbly will be a necessity for leaders of the future. “From Chief Technology Officer to Chief Customer Officer to Chief Culture Officer, it seems as though we hear a new C- job title each day.” The report states. What that means is “organizations of all industries need to find ways to integrate these new leaders into their existing structures.”

Managing teams nimbly will be a necessity for leaders of the future #equalleadership

A contributor to the report, Angela Guy, Senior Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion for L’Oréal USA, said, “By leveraging the diversity of our talent, we advance diversity and inclusion internally, as well as externally because our talent (meaning our employees) represents the diversity of our consumer. When our talent is able to speak about their culture, their lives, and how they work, we are able to leverage this to better understand our consumers.”

What will make a difference globally in creating true equality of work and reaching gender parity in the workplace?

Dr. Rohini Anand, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and the Global Chief Diversity Officer at Sodexo, also a contributor to the report, said: “What really makes a difference and what really makes a successful initiative is an initiative that is holistic and systemic—that’s about changing the culture.

And that has a couple of key underpinnings: the senior level CEO commitment; visibility; clearly articulated business case, which resonates with the organization; clear analysis and metrics.”

Moving forward to have more women not only in board positions, but also treated equally in management positions and throughout the workplace culture, the report offers a toolkit. The strategies and tips include recommendations to reveal hidden biases; challenge the status quo; diversify employee pool; start a dialogue; don’t repeat history; sponsor women; be transparent; offer access to advancement; monitor metrics and make men listen.

According to the report, “The 32 million white men holding global leadership positions need to become critical allies in leveling the playing field for women and people of color in the workplace.”

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon