For all the credit we give our society for being sensitive to gender issues in our businesses, we can always count on some bad news when we get to the top of the corporate ladder.
Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit organization that was formed nearly 50 years ago to promote inclusive workplaces and opportunities for women in business, recently revealed that another year passed in which women made very little progress in increasing their numbers on boards of directors and in the executive ranks of our largest companies.
The organization found that in 2010 only 15.7 percent of the members of the board of directors at Fortune 500 companies were women, up slightly from 15.2 percent the year before.
In those same companies, women held just 14.4 percent of the executive officer positions, compared to 13.5 percent in 2009. Yet, there are 72 million women in the American work force, or 46.8 percent of the entire labor pool.
“Corporate America needs to get ‘unstuck’ when it comes to advancing women to leadership,” said Ilene Lang, Catalyst’s president and chief executive. “This is our fifth report where the annual change in female leadership remained flat. If this trend line represented a patient’s pulse – she’d be dead.”
While 50 percent of the Fortune 500 companies had at least two women in their boards in 2010, 10 percent had none. But the news gets worse in the senior executive ranks. Catalyst reports that women held just 7.6 percent of the highest earning jobs inside their companies, even though they held 14.4 percent of the positions. And, one-third of all these largest American companies have no women in the top executive ranks.
The two-tiered system starts at the very beginning of their careers. Among MBA-credentialed workers with mentors helping them, men had starting salaries of $9,260 more per year than women. And, when male executives got promoted, their pay increased an average of 21 percent. When women executives got promoted, their pay raises averaged just 2 percent, according to Catalyst.
“Jumpstarting women’s advancement takes commitment fueled by urgency,” said Lang. “Our research points to a solution that can narrow the gender leadership gap and supercharge the leadership pool – making corporate America more competitive in the process.”
There have been plenty of excuses handed down through the years as to why women earn less than men and why they rarely make it into top executives positions. Many of those explanations no longer make sense. Women today enter the work force with college degrees as frequently as men. And they are less likely than they used to be to curtail their careers if they marry and have families.
Business leaders talk about the opportunities and equitable treatment women are provided in today’s world. But consider this fact from the U.S. Department of Labor: The three largest occupations for women in 2010 were as secretaries and administrative assistants, registered nurses, and elementary and middle school teachers. Can you see the progress we’re making?