“I do not feel that my years of experience are valued or respected by my boss or coworkers,” wrote an employee on an employee satisfaction survey that I recently administered for a client. Most of the employees of this organization are very young, with only a few older workers below the executive level. This comment surprised both me and my client, but I recognized it as a symptom of the generational shift change taking place in the United States.
Could a bold and creative act by the Boston-based State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) finally bring gender equity to corporate boards in the United States? When senior female executives at SSGA decided to commission the statue “The Fearless Girl,” their goal was to bring visibility to the lack of women on boards. By placing the statue in front of New York City’s iconic Bull of Wall Street in during the middle of the night prior to International Women’s Day on March 9, 2017, they hoped to spotlight this issue.
Women have enrolled in law school in equal numbers with men in the United States for the last twenty years, and minority enrollment has also steadily increased during this period. Recent studies, compiled into a series of articles by New York Times reporter Elizabeth Olson show both good news and bad news about the current status of women and minorities in law firms.
Olson reports good news based on a study by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). This study shows that women and minorities made small gains in 2016:
- Women made up 22.13 percent of partners, up from 21.46 percent in 2015.
Decades of research show that women make a difference in elected office. Women do govern differently, yet we are losing representation in the United States. Claire Cain Miller, writing for the New York Times, reports these results of the November 2016 election:
- The number of female governors dropped from six to five.
- The number of women in Congress stayed the same at 104, or 19 percent of the seats in the House and Senate. One seat was gained in the Senate and one lost in the House.
- Thirteen states will send no women to the new 115th Congress.
Exciting new research reported in the New York Times from Columbia University and the University of Texas provides much needed evidence that racial and ethnic diversity on teams improves performance. While I have always felt the truth of this finding from my own experiences, it is good to see empirical evidence that supports the practice of inclusion. This new research, added to other studies showing that gender diversity also improves performance, should encourage more intentional inclusion of race and gender diversity on teams and in classrooms.
I grew up in a family business started by my grandparents and continued by my father, his six siblings, and their spouses. The business was a chain of clothing stores in small towns in the Midwest. While each sibling owned their own store or two, a number were jointly owned by all the family members, and these were run by my father as the corporate CEO. I began working in the business, as did most of my siblings and cousins, around the age of eight. Because I was the oldest of my three siblings and showed interest and business acumen, I understood from an early age that I was being groomed to take over for my father some day to run both our individual store and the jointly owned businesses. I was exposed to and mentored in every aspect of the business, and the fact that I was female never came up as an issue with anyone in the extended family. It was a great disappointment to all when I discovered during college that my path in life lay elsewhere and I declared that I would not be joining the business after college—but that is a story for another day.
The announcement by the Obama administration at the end of 2015 that all combat roles in the military will be open to women is indeed a victory for women. This opens 220,000 jobs previously closed to women. While I wish we lived in a world without war where we did not need a military, that is not the world we are in, and I am happy that the women who want combat roles and military careers are now able to have access to them.
I found it inspiring to read in Forbes magazine that Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has decided to put women and girls at the center of her focus to end poverty in the world. Other philanthropists and bankers (such as Muhammad Yunus, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for microloan practices that target women) have shown that investing in women results in significant improvement in the standard of living for families and communities.
The recent focus on the gender-wage gap has raised awareness for several young women in my life who are clear that they do not want to be paid less than men for doing the same work. Do you know a young woman who is looking for a career where women make more than men? According to Sarah Skidmore Sell of the Orange County Register there is one: CFO (chief financial officer). The high pay for women CFOs is not due to women outnumbering men in the position—a recent survey found only 60 female CFOs at S&P 500 companies compared to 437 men. Sell reports that “the median pay for female CFOs last year rose 11 percent to $3.32 million. Male CFO pay rose 7 percent to $3.3 million.” Sell also acknowledges that the high median pay for female CFOs is partly a result of their small number and tendency to work for the largest companies, where compensation is higher than at smaller companies.
I just read some surprising statistics about the lack of diversity on corporate boards and why this matters. Stick with me on this topic. This information explains a lot, and I promise it will give you new perspective on why the glass ceiling stays in place for women and minorities—and what needs to change.
The Big Picture
I live in Massachusetts where a combination of universities, foundations, and local news organizations have come together to put a spotlight on the lack of diversity on the boards of publicly traded Massachusetts companies. Research reported by the Boston Fund and the Boston Globe in late 2015 showed the following: