Stand Up And Be Counted: Why Lists Of Women Tracking Progress Matter

Keeping track of progress is crucial.

Keeping track of progress is crucial.

It is list season.

Fortune recently published its Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list with seven women on it for the first time, “and CEOs controlling just under $1 trillion in market cap.”

There’s also the latest 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance. The 2018 Women Leaders in Tech Law, The Most Powerful Women in Chicago Business, plus the usual 40 Under 40 lists from around the country in different fields, or the 50 Under 50 or 30 Under 30. There is also the new Working Mother 100 Best Companies. For every year, we receive lists of best and worst cities, best and worst companies, and so many more.

Lists from publications like @FortuneMagazine naming and categorizing women as influential, powerful, successful, and innovative can be inspiring. They can also set the barre for aspirations.

The collection of women named and categorized as influential, powerful, successful and innovative can be inspiring. It can set the barre for aspirations. But why should we care?

Keeping track of advancement and providing applause and accolades for women along the way is a good way to show progress and to keep the dial moving. Evidence of advancement counts. Numbers matter. It’s just getting to those numbers that may be difficult.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, “The fact is that it is still primarily men driving the selection process—the incumbent CEO and the board—which means that men still set the culture, tenor and tone for determining who is fit to succeed,” says Sally Blount, who recently stepped aside as dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “It takes time to broaden the messaging and change the unspoken rules and expectations.”

The data and surveys from multiple sources also  provide hard numbers beyond anecdotes of where progress has been made and more needs to be done.

For instance, a new American Express survey of women-owned businesses in 2018 speaks to advancement  and impact of women entrepreneurs.

“This new data demonstrates not only the remarkable impact women entrepreneurs have on our economy when it comes to creating jobs and generating revenue, but also the growing role of women-owned businesses in our communities,” says Julie Tomich, Senior vice president, American Express Global Commercial Services. “Over the past 11 years, we’ve seen women’s entrepreneurship and economic impact increase – especially among the growing number of women-owned companies that generate more than $1 million in revenue.”

The survey shows, “Notably in 2018, women-owned businesses that generated revenues of more than $1 million increased 46 percent over the past 11 years vs. 12 percent of all U.S. businesses. Over the past 11 years, the ratio of women-owned businesses to total businesses in the U.S. increased much faster than their employment and revenue growth. While the share of women-owned businesses leapt from 29 percent in 2007 to 40 percent in 2018, the proportion of total employment and revenues for all businesses grew by only a few percentage points.”

The numbers show progress. They also show movement towards a goal, as Take The Lead has a goal of achieving gender parity in leadership across all sectors by 2025.

The numbers also show stalemates. Counting who is there at the top is as crucial as counting who is not there.

The number of women leading their fields shows progress. But it also shows stalemates. Counting who is at the top is as crucial as counting who is not there. #womenleaders #closethegap

“When Ursula Burns quietly shut off the light to her office as Xerox CEO at the end of 2016, her departure also cast a light on a sad statistic: There are currently zero African-American women running Fortune 500 companies. Burns’ appointment to the top job in 2009 had been hailed as a milestone. Suddenly it looked more like an anomaly,” writes Ellen McGirt in Fortune.

“According to Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity, women and minorities occupied about 31 percent of the board seats of Fortune 500 companies in 2016—up from 26.7 percent in 2012. And while 19 black women gained seats on Fortune 500 boards last year, boards remain nearly 80 percent male,” McGirt says.

With a new infographic that highlights female entrepreneurship, Balboa Capital suggests that keeping track of history and growth is critical.

“There are more than 11.6 million women-owned business in the United States. They employ approximately 9 million workers and generate $1.9 trillion in annual sales. The Women’s Business Ownership Act (H.R. 5050) passed in 1988, and it changed the way female entrepreneurs started and funded their companies. With the passing of H.R. 5050, women can obtain start-up and growth capital easier, plus receive assistance for a number of business-related matters, including marketing, financing, and management,” according to a recent release from Balboa.

Knowing your numbers and the numbers of women in leadership in your industry and far beyond will help you see where you fit in the landscape of progress.

Knowing your numbers and the numbers of #womeninleadership in your industry and far beyond will help you see where you fit in the landscape of #progress.

Take The Lead’s 9 Leadership Power Tools created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead,  include the first, “ Know your History. And you can create the future of your choice.”

Knowing where we are, how far we have come and how far we need to go is essential in any movement for change. Keep an eye on your own concrete evidence and metrics so you can track your progress.

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.