Has anything changed in terms of women in the workplace or their roles as leaders in our country?
A newly released study by the Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver (CWC), Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, 2013, carefully examines women in top positional leadership roles across 14 sectors for the first time. The study revealed that women hold on average under 20% of leadership positions, earn less than their male counterparts, and by some measures are outperforming their male peers across sectors such as Academia, Arts/Entertainment, Business/Commercial Banking, Entrepreneurship, Journalism/Media, Law, Medicine, Military, Nonprofit/Philanthropy, K-12 Education, Politics/Government, Religion, Sports, and Technology.
“In reality, most women have no economic choice except to work, and/or seek professional advancement and leadership positions. Therefore, it is in everyone’s best interest—women, their families and our nation—for women to receive equitable treatment, pay and opportunity for advancement.”
With the creation of this report, CWC has continued a legacy of The White House Project by expanding upon its previous research and taking the process further. A number of other studies benchmarking women’s leadership in individual sectors demonstrate that, despite legislative and attitudinal changes, women are underrepresented and underpaid, and, in some cases, over-performing when one examines achievements in respective fields. Factors often cited for contributing to women’s lack of leadership advancement and pay equity include choosing to invest in family responsibilities, chosen fields of study, and “lifestyle” preferences. Additionally, there is typically an inference that women are “choosing” to not pursue senior level roles, and possibly, to not work at all. In reality, most women have no economic choice except to work, and/or seek professional advancement and leadership positions. Therefore, it is in everyone’s best interest—women, their families and our nation—for women to receive equitable treatment, pay and opportunity for advancement.
In Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, 2013, researchers employed a different methodological approach from previous studies. What they found, as a result, is quantifiable evidence that debunks many of the existing myths about the lack of women leaders. To determine where women in general, and women of color specifically, sit in leadership over a broad range of industries, researchers collected sector-specific data and analyzed each sector’s executive leadership, boards of directors and trustees, and awardees of industry-specific distinctions. They examined the presence of women leaders at approximately 500 for- and not-for-profit organizations nationwide. The top 10 organizations within each sector (based on size, profitability, budget and political or governmental influence) were analyzed. Researchers used public information as well as data found in a range of governmental databases while also looking at recognitions earned from third-party awards and rankings, among other sector-specific criteria.
By focusing on the nation’s top performing companies and performers, researchers sought to overcome the presumption that women are not in senior leadership because, for example, they prefer positions that accommodate their families or lifestyle.
Specific recommendations are offered in this report to increase the number of women leaders. For example, this research indicates the immediate need for far greater objectivity in hiring procedures, promotion practices, and merit increases. Without specific strategies to address promotion and advancement of women, corporations and organizations will continue to fall behind their competition.
The findings in Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, 2013 demonstrate that:
- Women positional leaders are oftentimes outperforming men, but not earning salaries or obtaining titles that reflect their high performance.
- Women are better represented in the top performers (as measured by industry-specific achievements) when comparing the nation’s top businesses and organizations to their respective sectors as a whole.
- The assumption that women are underrepresented in leadership roles because they prefer less demanding or time-consuming positions to accommodate their families or lifestyle is challenged by the research.
- When women leaders are present, revenue is greater, sales are increased, impact and reach are more expansive, and industry distinctions are more prolific.
- In newer sectors, such as technology and social media where gatekeepers have not yet emerged, women are better represented in positional leadership roles.
- Taking all evidence into consideration, the lack of women in positional leadership roles is predominantly due to an inherent bias against women as leaders.
- Without strategies to address promotion and advancement of women, U.S. corporations and organizations will continue to fall behind their competition as they neglect harnessing the energy and talent of 50% of the U.S. workforce.
- The most important recommendation that emerged throughout all sectors was the imperative that organizations prioritize the implementation of objective performance measurements and performance-based promotion practices.
The findings and the resulting ramifications contained in this report illuminate data that are missing as part of the public discourse on the U.S. economy and this country’s future as a global competitor. For our nation to make the best widget, offer the best solution, engage in effective lawmaking, gross the largest profit and educate future leaders, it must take advantage of 50% of its workforce—women. To truly bring women to full parity, leaders throughout all sectors must acknowledge the inherent and institutionalized gender biases that still exist, and adopt evidence-based practices to secure a future in which this nation “harness(es) the opportunities offered by this vital segment of the workforce.” 1
“When women lead, their leadership improves an organization’s impact, employee retention and profit.”
When women lead, their leadership improves an organization’s impact, employee retention and profit. With improved retention comes better and more efficient hiring and promotion practices and talent management. From greater impact comes innovative and diverse perspectives on the solutions to societal problems, more satisfied clients and/or consumers and an improvement in quality of life. With larger profits comes a more sustainable organization or business, more opportunities for hires and promotions, and greater wealth. Investing in women is a win-win for all sectors and ultimately, our nation.
The time has come for us to move from “lip-service” to true equity and parity for women in the workforce, in the C-Suite and on boards.
1. Wall Street Journal, April 2012
- Full Report: Colorado Women’s College, University of Denver: Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States
- Center for America Progress: The State of Women in America
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