Analyzing and evaluating female executive positions can quickly turn into a mixed bag of number crunching, statistics, and data. For example, according to the Fortune 500 “women’s representation in leadership positions has not changed much in recent years”. At the same time, the Financial Post 500 gauges that “women’s representation in leadership positions in the recent years has gradually increased”. The problem seems to be that every analysis uses different criteria – leadership could mean a SENIOR OFFICER; or a BOARD SEAT; or PARTNER; or even an ASSOCIATE.
Leaving statistics aside for the moment, Canadian trends indicate that the prevalence of women in senior positions has stalled during the last few decades. When comparing the proportion of senior-level women with men, there has been little change over the years. According to government reports, it’s twice as probable for a man to achieve a senior position than a woman. And although women have made great strides, it doesn’t seem to hold true when it comes to senior level executive positions. The thing is, it’s not just about “women’s issues” any more.
Increasing female representation in senior executive positions is not just a matter of fair play. Indeed, it’s widely recognized that without a woman’s point of view in senior decision-making, there’s a real risk of losing competitive advantage in the marketplace. Because women in senior management attract media coverage so readily, we get the impression that the barriers to advancement are long gone. But in reality, the barriers are still there, as are the challenges. And it applies to the full range of positions – from director level, to president, to chief executive officer.
Now, back to the statistics. Not only are there few women in senior level positions – the next cohort of future leaders is smallish. Recent statistics show that although women comprise almost 50% of the labor force in Canada, only a tiny percentage hold senior level positions. For men, there is three times more probability to advance and secure a senior level position. The point is, it has much less to do with increases or decreases in female executive positions, and more to with the disproportional under-representation in the marketplace. In fact, the statistics are similar at the middle management level.
The most important issue of all is how to create material change. Successful companies are already doing it – for them, the bottom line is to increase the proportion of female executive positions significantly. They make sure that prospective women candidates are short-listed. They focus on identifying “new talent”, and they initiate meaningful “succession planning” efforts. Above all, they create an environment of empowerment and support to ensure success. And overall, they promote “gender diversity” as a vital part of responsible business practice.
All things considered, “gender diversity” has proven to deliver bottom line results. The most recent studies show that companies with a high proportion of women at a senior level actually outperform companies without. Women bring a different perspective, different skills, and a different approach to business. In short, it’s a formula for success.