By Jane Scaccetti, CPA, MT, PFS, CEO and Cofounding Shareholder, Drucker & Scaccetti
The reports and studies are widely circulated and often discussed: Gender diversity on boards of directors improves a company as measured by profitability, return on capital, and nearly every other metric important to stakeholders. So why is it that women make up such a small percentage of directors or trustees? And why has the number barely moved in the past 30 years? The reasons and the solutions are multifaceted, yet in today’s world of fast moving information few take the time to understand the issue and seek solutions. And there are solutions.
Let’s start with the facts. Since the 1980s, women have outpaced men at attending and graduating college. Today, 50 percent or more of those graduating from undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools are women. Many are at the top of the class. Over 50 percent of university applicants nationally are women. Women outpace men at entry-level management positions in companies and are nearing parity at many top MBA programs around the country.
It’s unacceptable that, according to the Philadelphia Forum of Executive Women’s 2015 report Women on Boards, the “proportion of corporate women leaders has barely budged over the past six years.” The S&P 500 only list 19 percent of directors as women and 4 percent of CEOs as women. More than a third of the largest 100 public companies in the Philadelphia-area have no women on their boards. The Spencer Stuart 2016 Greater Philadelphia Board Index states that 18 percent of directors are women, unchanged from 2015. And women of color are nearly absent from Fortune 500 boards making, up less than 3 percent.
If the pipeline is greater than 50 percent, why are women in leadership positions so low? This is not a supply issue. The issue we have today is one of demand.
A humorous analogy I like to use is, “Just move the milk!” It helps illustrate, in an all-too-familiar way, one of the problems. We’ve all had a husband, son, brother, or dad who goes to look for something in the fridge and can’t find it. He yells from the kitchen, “We are out of ketchup.” You respond, “We have ketchup…it’s in there.” After several visual scans, he responds that he does not see it. Your retort is simple, “Just move the milk.” When he moves the milk, he finds the ketchup. So it is with finding qualified women in business for leadership positions. If we take the time to look, we will find the talent. It just takes a little effort.
Over the past few years, I have lectured on parity in board rooms and C-suites to Philadelphia-area universities and business organizations. When young men and women see the numbers and how little the needle has moved over the past 20 or 30 years, their first assumption is that was then and this is now - that things are different. The sobering moment is when I tell them how I once believed and said that too. Many organizations and women have been fighting for parity for decades with only a pittance of change.
In my presentation, “Are You the Generation that Gets to 50/50,” I engage the audience to find solutions. Both men and women respond positively to the presentation, and fully participate with outspoken opinions. One such opinion came from a male student whose family culture discouraged women from pursuing careers. He challenged the data and the notion of women in leadership roles. The experience and the opinions of the many women in the room somehow changed his way of thinking. In an e-mail the following day he thanked me for helping him understand that his wife or sister may someday be fulfilled by having an active career. He just never thought about it from her perspective.
Jane Scaccetti was a speaker at the PICPA’s Women’s Conference on May 11, 2016 in Malvern, Pa. Here more from Jane in this On-Demand CPE session: Women in Leadership: Are You the Generation that Gets to 50/50?