DEI professionals and women’s rights advocates alike have been pressing for greater equity, representation and inclusion for female workers in America’s boardrooms for decades.
While strides have been made in the 170 years since the dawn of women’s suffrage and the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, which marked the beginning of the women’s rights movement in the U.S., that progress often continues at a snail’s pace, pushed forward primarily by glass ceiling bursting female executives and companies brave enough and willing enough to embrace and invest in female leadership. Here’s a snapshot of where things currently stand in the movement:
Progress at a Glacial Pace
From the C-Suite to the boardroom, the good news is that gender diversity has increased significantly in the U.S. business world over the past decade. But while more and more women’s voices are being heard in more corporate settings, the progress that is being made is still occurring at an incredibly slow rate.
The Institute for Women’s Leadership at Nichols College estimates that while women represent 47% of the workforce (and 45% of the S&P 500 workforce), they make up just 4% of executive leadership roles. Even worse, despite a slow but ongoing increase in the availability of these roles, they are also still victims of the ongoing gender wage gap, with most female executives still earning approximately 79 cents to every dollar a man in an equivalent position earns.
Data from other research groups yields similarly troubling findings. In its recently updated 2022 business workforce pyramid, global nonprofit gender diversity watchdog Catalyst reported that while women make up an estimated 47% of the workforce, they continue to hold just 41% of general management positions, and just 29% of executive leadership roles.
The group also reports that while the number of women included in S&P 500 and Fortune 500 corporate boards has recently reached an all-time record high — with 30% of current board positions being filled by women — overall board parity remains low, with many organizations having just a single female board member (usually, someone who is white rather than a person of color).
Hurdles to Overcome
In its 2021 Women in the Workplace annual report, global management consulting firm McKinsey pointed out that many companies aren’t willing to invest in and train women in the workforce to fill leadership roles in the future. It’s often not the lack of qualified female talent that is holding back corporate gender diversity but rather poor planning and recruiting on the corporate level.
McKinsey’s report shows that only 86 women are promoted for every 100 men promoted to manager. This means that men outnumber women at the manager level, leading to fewer women to promote to higher levels.
This trend has been seen since 2016, and Black, Latinx, and Asian women are especially hard hit by this phenomenon, McKinsey wrote.
“Between the entry-level and the C-suite, the representation of women of color drops off by more than 75%,” according to the report. “As a result, women of color account for only 4% of C-suite leaders, a number that hasn’t moved significantly in the past three years.”