By Michelle Patterson, Special for USDR
It’s a painful revelation. “At the current rate of change, it will take until the year 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in our country.” This staggering estimate, reported by the Center for American Progress (CAP), persists despite “over the past two decades, a considerable body of research has emerged to lend incontrovertible proof to the idea that when women thrive, organizations thrive—and nations thrive too. From that research, there is now a consensual view that women’s leadership is not just a matter of fairness, but also has the potential to move companies, governments, and societies in new and better directions.”
The opportunity loss implications of women who continue to be marginalized in today’s corporate and overarching economic landscape cannot be taken lightly. Especially when one considers these frightening female factoids:
- Although women are 50.8 percent of the U.S. population earning almost 60 percent of both undergraduate and Master’s degrees, also holding almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, American women lag substantially behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership positions (CAP, Catalyst, Center for Economic Development):
- They are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
- Their presence in top management positions today remains below 9 percent.
- They hold just 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats, representing “no significant year-over-year uptick for the 8th straight year.”
- The percentage of women on all U.S. corporate boards has been stuck in the 12.1 percent to 12.3 percent range over the past decade.
- The United States, once a world leader in gender equality, now lags behind other similarly wealthy nations in women’s economic participation. In the two decades from 1990 to 2010, our country fell from having the sixth-highest rate of female labor-force participation among 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, countries to 17th on the list. (CAP)
- America ranks number six in women’s economic participation and opportunity on the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Index of 136 countries. (Catalyst)
- Stereotypes and skewed perceptions remain powerful and still impede the advancement of women. The dearth of women in leadership roles—and in whole fields—creates the perception that women do not belong in those positions or professions. (CAP)
- Structural barriers: A shortage of role models, for example, means that women—and women of color in particular—lack mentors, sponsors, and opportunities in male-heavy organizations to develop the sorts of social relationships out of which mentorship, sponsorship, board appointments, or simply promotions, naturally evolve. (CAP)
I applaud the 2012 report, “Fulfilling the Promise: How More Women on Corporate Boards Would Make America and American Companies more Competitive,” from the Center for Economic Development, which condensed all of its findings into “one fundamental recommendation” that wholeheartedly uphold: that “Businesses – business leaders – must make it a priority to develop the talents and advance the careers of female staff who have been identified as potential leaders. This means providing such women with the experiences and backgrounds needed to rise to the top, and advocating their promotion to higher levels of responsibility. The development of talent within an organization is critical to long-term competitiveness. Businesses that can provide talented women with developmental opportunities and integrate them into their workforce are much more likely to succeed in competition with those that fail to do so.”
The power of unity, connecting and collaborating are key elements in the progression of women. Women and men collaborating with global organizations have abundant opportunity to advance in the future.
Visionary and lauded business accelerator Michelle Patterson is President of the Global Women Foundation and The California Women’s Conference (www.californiawomensconference.com) – the largest women’s symposium in North America that has featured esteemed First Ladies, A-List Hollywood celebrities, and high caliber business influencers. Michelle is also the CEO of Women Network LLC, an online digital media platform dedicated to giving women a voice and a platform to share their message. Michelle may be reached at WomenNetwork.com.