I have, for decades now, pursued a mission to support gender balance in business leadership. Occasionally I pause and take stock. Are we closer to a time when business can take advantage of gender diversity – i.e., get the benefits of more of the workforce? The answer is unsatisfactory to me. There is some progress but, overall, not nearly enough. In a 2012 article, I used the metaphor of “is the glass half empty or half full?” Still a great question! AND the Supreme Court hearings have made me and other women righteously angry, in part at our own silence.
I know that there is more progress in some areas – e.g., smaller businesses and entrepreneurial companies. I get input from women who tell me they see lots more women in high places. I get more stories in which things look like they did decades ago. I personally don’t define “balance” or “parity” as a 50/50 ratio of men and women leaders. I would be satisfied to see a 65/35 ratio in my lifetime. At this pace, to see this, I will need to live a lot longer than my actuarial life expectancy.
The numbers for big companies are marginally better compared to 2011. For example, the percentage of women CEO’s in the S&P 500 has increased from 2.4 to 5% (down from 5.2% in 2017). In that period the portion of female top earners increased from 7.6 to 11% and executive officers from 14.4 to 26.5%. Women represent a higher percentage of board members in these companies – 15.7% in 2011 and 21.2% now.
In preparing for a workshop in Canada, I researched where Canadian business is in achieving gender balance. While women are well represented in the public sector (50% of Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet!), private sector numbers tell the same story as here in the U.S. Based on the Osler 2018 Diversity Disclosure Practice, women were 3.3% of CEO’s in reporting companies and 15.8% of executive officers. Canada has a national goal that women will be 30% of board members; they are now at 16.4%.
In getting ready for my fall workshops, I read Diane Lipman’s book “What She Said.” It’s a great read but all too similar to what I covered in my 2012 book, “Difference WORKS.” As I read anecdotes, I experienced déjà vu. Like me, she identifies the reason women haven’t made more progress as unconscious bias.
The wage gap is somewhat narrower. Women now earn 77-80 cents for every dollar a man earns compared to 59 cents in 1968. It is still there in many sectors. Moniek Meyer sent me research showing that female freelancers are making 50% less than their male counterparts.
The hearings on the U.S. Supreme Court nomination brought up our recollections of Annita Hill in 1992. While I think the nominee’s accuser was treated somewhat better than Hill, we saw several incidences of automatic credibility for the male’s story and more doubt of hers.
Violence against women is an extreme manifestation of the cultural bias for men and against women, which is the root cause for the imbalance that I write about. Most important, the hearings are a graphic image of women’s silence when they are emotionally and physically wronged. I share in the anger that is bubbling up. I, too, have been silent about wrongs I experienced. I look forward to reading Rebecca Traister’s book on the power of women’s anger, Good and Mad.
The numbers show progress, so we can say that the glass is fuller than before. But the slowness of this progress, and the acknowledgement of the deep ways in which women are silent, tell a different story. Sometimes I want to give up. I need a little bucking up. Please either buck me up or tell me to apply my energies to some other cause!