Diversity and inclusion, particularly as it relates to women, is a hot topic and a passion of mine and at Boyden. For us, diversity hiring is not just a commitment to our clients, but an opportunity for vastly improving top-line growth and profitability. As CEO of Boyden and the first woman to lead a major global executive search firm, I’ve been able to work with my teams to establish a clear process for building diversity into each client engagement. Diversity is more than a mandate; it is proven to be critical to business success.
Around the nation, advances are evident for women in the workforce, especially for women in leadership positions. Across industries, there have been increases in female representation in management and the compensation gap is slowly closing. That said, female leaders still face many challenges.
While there has been progress in terms of women gaining more senior management and board roles in the past decade, we have a long way to go. Women now represent more than half the workforce but hold less than 20 percent of all top leadership positions. In Fortune 500 companies, women only held less than 15 percent of executive officer positions in 2013. Chicago’s statistics were on par, with 14.5 percent of executive officer positions at Chicago’s 50 largest public companies held by women in 2013.
This representation of women leaders is low considering all of the research showing that companies with women leaders have reaped many benefits. Women are generally rated as more effective leaders compared to their male counterparts, especially with regard to employee engagement, collaboration and customer insights. Diversity in management and on corporate boards often means better financial results for companies, as well.
The evidence is overwhelming. According to landmark studies by Credit Suisse and Catalyst, companies with at least one female board director outperformed their peer index compared to companies with only male directors. Furthermore, companies with sustained high representation of women – three or more women board directors in the last four to five years – significantly outperformed companies with no female representation. This value-add makes a compelling case for pushing ahead with creating more opportunities for women to advance their careers and become leaders.
Some industry sectors are recognizing these benefits and have more female representation. In particular, newer sectors like technology and social media have more women in leadership roles. In Chicago, women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies include Irene Rosenfeld at Mondelez International, Patricia Woertz at Archer Daniels Midland Company and Ilene Gordon at Ingredion.
Despite all of the advances that have been made, gains for American women in corporate management have plateaued. We all need to be part of the solution and position ourselves to take advantage of every opportunity to close the gap.