The Future Must Be More Female
85% of corporate executives and board members are white men.
A couple weeks ago, I got the opportunity to attend an Embodied Leadership Workshop for Women at UCLA Anderson with Suzanne Roberts, founder of Unifying Solutions. The 4 hour workshop was a crash course on the history of gender inequity and Suzanne shared powerful strategies and exercises for women to thrive in the workplace. The most boggling statistic shared during the session was that girls’ confidence peaks at age 9. According to a study conducted at the New York University Child Study Center, Dr. Robin F. Goodman writes, “Girls’ self-esteem peaks when they are nine years old, then takes a nose dive.”
So often, gender inequality is thought of as an intangible force that somehow holds women back. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that these forces are not mystical remnants of the past. There are structural and embedded boundaries that limit a woman’s viability for the C suite over time, and these boundaries are starting to affect women at a younger and younger age. It is important for women to educate themselves on the subtle and not so subtle forces that are molding us to shy away from leadership opportunities and approaching industries that have typically been dominated by men.
What is maybe more alarming is that these boundaries don’t always originate from men. In a recent study, research showed that white male executives aren’t rewarded for valuing diversity, and that female leaders who value diversity in the workplace are actually penalized with poor performance reviews. This leaves women, particularly minority women, in a conundrum. Once you’ve reached success, how do you help other capable and competent women move up without risking your own career?
Realizing gender equity is a complex and challenging task. There are no easy answers or fixes, but it is clear that businesses who don't have women in the C-suite are less profitable than those that do. The Peterson Institute found that the presence of women in corporate leadership positions is linked to better firm performance. The study showed that going from 0 women in corporate leadership to a 30% female share is associated with a 1% increase in net margin, which is typically a 15% increase in profitability for a firm.
Although women make up 40% of MBA graduates and 40% of managers, they are still only 15% of the C-suite. We should all ask ourselves: what boundaries or biases are affecting my company’s ability to retain talented women from staying or moving up? The only way to solve the problem is to recognize that you have one.