Are Women Stalled?
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor steps down from the Supreme Court, Carly Fiorina forced out of Hewlett Packard leaving no women CEO’s in the Dow Jones industrial average, the only self made female on the Forbes 25 Richest, Martha Stewart, jailed.
It hasn’t been the best of times for women in leadership recently. As the new millennium progresses, the influence women once hoped to hold seems to be suffering. The Forbes comment on the near absence of wealthy women as compared to men was, “it’s only been 20 years,” so we shouldn’t expect women to be on par with men.
It’s easy to notice when something goes wrong with women in high profile positions because there are so few of them in the first place. Increasing the candidate pool of qualified females needs to become a top priority in order to have a larger base of women as role models for the next generation of girls.
Women still dominate 8 out of the 10 lowest paying professions according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These are café counter attendants, food prep, food serving, retail cashiers, hostess, housecleaners, garment pressers and child care workers. According to some estimates, women’s earning power has decreased as the wage gap between men and women has increased several percentage points, and the gap isn’t expected to near closing for another 20 years.
Female enrollment in business schools has plummeted 15% since 2000. The Committee of 200, a research organization for women in business, has revealed that as of last year fewer women are joining corporate boards, gaining access to venture capital, and taking top executive positions in the Fortune 500.
If women are losing ground, why should it matter to American business? A 2003 study by Catalyst reveals that companies with the highest percentage of women in top management outperform male-dominated companies, with a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 24 percent higher total return to shareholders. Gender equity in leadership appears to be a strong factor in top financial performance.
In addition, women as employees offer a great competitive advantage, because they add additional energy, expertise and perspective through increased diversity.
Women as customers spend billions annually as the fastest growing purchasers of online services, travel, automobiles, lawn mowers, new homes and more. According to the Business Women’s Network, women are 50% of stock market investors, ironically investing in companies that still don’t have a representative number of women in leadership.
As shareholders, we should have serious concern if women are indeed stalled and find some immediate solutions to get them moving again before there are larger economic consequences.