Women in Leadership: Where Do We Stand?

iStock_000010106683XSmallBy Michelle Hendelman, Editor-in-Chief

In July, Sheryl Sandberg and PwC US Chairman and CEO, Bob Moritz, sat down for a special PwC webcast to have a conversation and revisit some of the most important themes discussed in Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, & the Will to Lead. This inspired us to also take a closer look at the current state of women as leaders and assess where we stand, what actions we could consider, and how we are going to achieve these goals.

Moritz, who is an outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusiveness, said of Lean In, “The reality of the book and the discussions will be about gender, particularly from a female’s perspective. But the lessons within it are equally applicable from a minority perspective, a generational-millennial perspective, a sexual orientation perspective.”

We believe that by encouraging men to talk about the challenges of others, as well as their own, everyone can really benefit. The critical role of the diversity agenda should be a companywide initiative rather than a point that only a select few subscribe to. So, we ask the question: where do we stand?

Some Good News for Women on Boards

Last month, The Glass Hammer reported that the global percentage of women on boards is slowly rising. In 2012, 59 percent of companies reported at least one female board director. This is an increase of three percentage points from 2008. While the percentage remained unchanged between 2011 and 2012, there is still a positive sign that movement is taking place in the right direction.

More governments are holding public companies accountable when it comes to board diversity, such as France and the UK, which require all publicly traded companies to have at least 40 percent women on their boards by 2017. In the United States, the SEC has been requiring that public companies utilize more transparency in their reporting on nominating policies and the subsequent impact of those policies on board diversity.

The question that we have to ask ourselves is slow growth better than stagnancy?

Women in the C-Suite

Opponents to quotas argue that these policies can lower the bar and make room for less qualified female applicants, resulting in a serious talent pipeline problem that would not bode well for the future of women’s leadership. However, Stanford University researchers suggest that board quotas may in fact draw more highly qualified female applicants.

Arguably, there has always been a risk of lowering the bar by selecting the wrong man when it was a one-gender affair, a point that we believe in putting forth at this stage.

In one of their most recent reports on women at the executive level in the Fortune 500, Catalyst found that only 14.3 percent of executive officers are women. This number is shocking considering that women make up slightly 51.5 percent of the professional labor force in the United States alone.

Women in International positions

The Glass Hammer reported in May that global mobility is on the rise, and that more women were opting for international assignments than ever before. According to a study conducted by Mercer, the number of women on international assignments sits at 13 percent, but as we see more female representation in senior level positions, this number is expected in increase.

Previously, there has been a general assumption that women are more inclined to turn down international assignments because of the potential conflict it would create within their family. But, as more women become the primary financial contributors within their household, the career opportunity associated with an international assignment will likely trump concerns about relocating their family.

While these are just three of the most important topics in the gender diversity conversation, they are certainly some of the biggest drivers and key factors on the global agenda. And there is a strong indication that women are embracing the opportunities to advance their career and penetrate the highest levels of their organizations.

Now it is time for companies to give back and facilitate women’s career advancement in a more productive way. Moritz summed it up best when he said, “I’m looking for organizations to lean in, to actually give the support when people want to lean in a little further, a little later, whatever it may be.”