The last three or four decades have seen considerable progress in terms of women in leadership roles, at least in the US. Today’s women are dealing with a narrower wage gap, seeing less overall gender discrimination, and dragging issues like sexual harassment out of the shadows. The percentage of females in leadership/management roles has much higher that it was.
Looking at those statistics, it might be tempting to assume that we were coming to grips with parity in corporate leadership. The situation is under control, if not good and getting better.
Our progress in this area, however, has been uneven at best, and it seems to have slowed noticeably since the turn of the century. Other factors, such as racial and/or ethnic differences, still show signs of being stumbling blocks as far as women moving into the top-level jobs…and at the end of the day, women as a group still aren’t coming close to matching the success of their male counterparts in terms of achieved leadership positions.
American corporate leadership, in other words, is still largely in the hands of male Caucasians…and they are not going quietly into that good night.
The Glass Ceiling Is Still There
As of July, 2018, women make up just over 50% of the US population. They are estimated to account for 47% of the labor force in the US, and 49% of the college-educated workforce. They hold almost 52% of all US jobs on the professional level. Based on population statistics, it would stand to reason that women should be closing in on at least 40-45% of leadership roles.
This, however, is plainly not the case.
According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, the gender gap in leadership is depressing:
- Women make up 44% of the overall S&P 500 labor force, but hold only 25% of senior-level official and manager positions and occupy only 20 of board seats. Women represent only 6% of CEOs;
- The percentage of females serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies dropped from 6.4% in 2017 to 4.8% in 2018;
- In the legal field, women make up 45% of associates but only 22% of partners…and just 18% of equity partners;
- In health and medicine, 37% of all physicians and surgeons are female, but only 16% of permanent medical school deans are women;
- Only 6% of partners in venture capital firms are female, as of 2013. That’s actually down from 10% in 1999;
- Based on 2016 figures, 43% of 150 highest-earning public companies in Silicon Valley had no female executive officers at all.
The situation is even worse for women of color. As of 2015, they make up 35% of the female labor force, 16% of the total labor force, and over 16% percent of workers in S&P 500 companies. Yet they held only 3.9% of executive/senior-level official and management positions and less than 1% of CEO slots in those same companies.
By the end of 2017, there were no African American women heading Fortune 500 companies…and the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies had no women of color as board directors at all.
Politics: An Area of Improvement
The news isn’t all bad: one bright spot in this overall picture is in the field of politics. The year 2018 left us with:
- 25 women serving in the U.S. Senate
- 102 women serving as voting members of the House of Representatives
- 4 additional women serving as nonvoting delegates to Congress
- 9 women serving as state governors
Overall Progress, but We Can Do Better
Women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, despite earning more college degrees than men for over 30 years. But stalling progress suggests that we may have a blind spot when it comes to gender diversity, and that presents a problem: problems don’t get solved unless they are clearly understood.
There is reason to hope: female entrepreneurs are making great headway, and corporate commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high. Yet this commitment falters when we start to believe the issue has been resolved: it hasn’t been.
We can do better.
As leaders, we need to redouble our efforts. Diversity in leadership is good for everyone. Numerous studies have demonstrated how efforts to achieve equality lead to stronger business results. Bottom line, when leadership positions are based on talent and experience–regardless of any physical characteristics such as gender, color, or age–everybody wins.