Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why are there so few women in the boardrooms?

According to a Catalyst report dated October 13, 2011, women in the US account for nearly half (46.7 %) of the workforce and hold a majority of management, professional, and related occupations at 51.5%, yet  they remain severely under-represented in leadership positions.

The report, based on a 2010 Catalyst census of Fortune 500 companies shows only 14.4 % of executive officers are women, 15.7% of board seats belong to women, 7.6% of top earners are women and an impotent 3% of Fortune 500 CEO's are women.

Norway recently has required 40% women participation on boards and the UK is also grappling with the issue of too few women represented in leadership.  A report from the UK by Lord Mervyn Davies presses for 25% women representation on boards by 2015.  

But this is not just an "its only fair" issue.  It is a matter more serious than life and death to many...It is a matter of almighty ..."PROFITS!"

The Davies report quotes studies showing that companies with more women on their boards outperform rivals, stating a 42% higher return on sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% greater return on equity.

So are the major stockholders fools who would rather protect their good ole boys network than make a lot more money?

Probably not...
So why are boardrooms so overly testosterone driven?  Well, there are the classic reasonings:
  • men are more competitive
  • women have erratic careers so that they can fit in child bearing
  • there is a lack of mentoring by senior staff toward women due to fears of whispers of improprieties
  • men have more access to networking on the golf course and in men's rooms                                    
There may be nuggets of truth to each of these explanations...but the bottom line is...if it makes more money, companies want it to happen.  Money after all is the score card.  Cash is king...and those who are playing want to be king.

So how do "we the public" help to convince large corporations (specifically the men in leadership in large corporations) to support women in leadership?  Clearly, the way to get their attention is to make it effect their income.   

Boycotting companies who do not support women in leadership would be one way to go...but let's face it...boycotts are ugly and usually shorter lived than a New Year's Eve resolution to eat healthy and lose weight (which I have typically broken every year by around 4 pm the next day with the onslaught of New Year's Day celebratory food and desserts presented in abundance only 16 hours since my resolution-making). 

So, if not a boycott..then what?  Perhaps a better way to drive home the point that we want more women in leadership is to advocate for companies (voting with our purchasing power) who support women in leadership.  It may take longer to achieve the mission, but companies who see the positive cash flow and improved public relations over time will be reinforced for their good choices (I think this was called "positive reinforcement" in my child psychology class)...and is much more powerful and has longer lasting influence than negative reinforcement.  Remember the Pavlovian experiment with the dog salivating at the sound of the bell? (classical learning) and the rats getting shocked in the B. F. Skinner box (operant learning)....  The shocked rats could relearn much more quickly than the salivating dog.  So...we want salivating dogs...a long lasting impact!

We need to create an atmosphere that makes the men in leadership want to support more women rising to leadership roles.  We need to make it look like it is their idea!  Let them "discover" that their company profits increase as more women rise to the top of corporate ladders. This all reminds me of the classic 1963 film "If a Man Answers," where Sandra Dee's mother hands her a canine-training manual with the advice "If you want a perfect marriage, treat your husband like a dog."  No one performs tricks unless there is something in it for them.  The training bisquit in this case is the purchasing power of women!  (Don't forget that women buy 80% of all goods and services!/....that is a lot of power if used intentionally!)  Now, far be it for me to suggest that we treat these high ranking, upstanding corporate leader males like children or dogs (unless of course the shoe fits in a particular situataion..LOL).  But women can exert their will as a collective action by creating a positive cash flow for companies that are doing what we want - and that will be noticed by stockholders.  

Come on...we know what it takes to get what we want...we just have to know that we want it,  and then we can make it happen.  The question you want this change to happen?  What will be the legacy that we leave to our daughters?  How might the world change if more women were in leadership roles?

Let's reward companies that behave the way we want them to behave....companies that embrace the contributions that women can make.  This is not an absurd concept.  Think about how the "green movement" has used this idea of rewarding companies who are good corporate citizens to make major changes for the environment in the last ten years!

So how will you know which companies you should be supporting?  ...Lists of companies with 25% or more women on their boards and companies with women CEO's can be found on the Catalyst website...which can be accessed through Pink Link Pages.  So, if you choose to, you can know which companies support women in leadership..and you could buy preferentially from those companies....

And if you are a company who has woman leadership...list your company on Pink Link Pages! 

"If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change!"
 Thank you Michael Jackson for this mantra!  

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