Women at the Top: Increasing Gender Equity in Coveted Business Positions

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The year is 2016. Women are enjoying greater representation across all business sectors than their mothers and grandmothers, and “feminism” is no longer considered a dirty word. However, a glaring lack of equality remains. According to a working paper released on Monday, corporate leadership is still a man’s game. The report, produced by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and funded by tax consulting firm EY, presents some discouraging statistics on the percentage of women in high-level executive roles.

This is problematic not only for its social implications but because a lack of female executives is correlated with lower profits. According to the report, companies whose executive teams were at least 30% female had greater profits on average than those with fewer women leaders. If businesses want to distinguish themselves in their industries, promoting the women in their companies to C suite-track positions is of utmost importance. The new report indicates firms can, and should, ensure no woman in their company faces a glass ceiling.

Some groups and campaigns aim to change this. The Thirty Percent Coalition’s mission is to increase the presence of female board members in publicly held companies. This initiative creates strategies for boosting gender parity in boardrooms across the country. Members of the Thirty Percent Coalition include national women’s organizations, government agencies, and investors.

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Their long term goal is a minimum of thirty percent female board member representation, a plan that naturally includes strong communication efforts. Their “Adopt a Company” campaign, an outreach program asked companies in the S&P 500 and Russell 1000 with zero female board members to encourage women to join their boards, has been particularly successful. “Adopt a Company” was launched in January 2012; by October 2015, 62 companies had included a woman on their board due to the coalition’s campaign.

This is an example of how powerful outreach can be in fixing corporate leadership’s gender problem. In June 2015, the Committee for Economic Diversity launched an outreach program for gender diversity in the boardroom. This followed a report they released demonstrating voluntary initiatives taken by company leadership have a positive impact on gender equality.

This program advises leading companies to set goals for inclusivity, increase criteria for executive positions, and expand the sources where they find female board members. Other groups, such as Sheryl Sandburg’s LeanIn.org, created media campaigns tackling gender in the workplace from a number of angles. The Leanin website includes tips for managers about promoting the presence of women in all workplace positions. They also include words of encouragement for young female college graduates.

With a woman running a very powerful (and controversial) presidential campaign, women’s issues are making more headlines than ever before. Certain industries, such as public relations, are uniquely female-friendly. This is a point of pride and distinction and is paving the way for a more equal future.

Those with communications experience should offer their expertise to help other companies boost gender equality in high-ranking positions. Unless something changes, the future for female corporate leadership will be grim: at today’s rate, it will be more than 100 years before gender equity in C-suite positions is a reality. Luckily, experience has shown proactive communication really works.

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