Corporate Leadership for Women is On Slipping Slope: Disappointing Statistics, but Positive Outlook…

I never pay attention to age or gender. There are just too many other more important things to consider in leadership ~Martha Stewart

It’s clear that the world of business is being transformed by women. But, in the gender makeup of U.S. Fortune 500 corporation, women corporate leadership has barely changed over the last 7 years. While there is a slight upward trend in the number of women in corporate leadership, the overall figures are still very low. However, there’s a bright side: 

According to the Second Annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report;  It’s estimated that there are more than 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue and employing nearly 7.7 million people. The growth of women-owned firms is very impressive; numbers–up 54%, employment–up 9%, revenues–up 58%, and over past 15 years the growth of women-owned business exceeds growth rates of all but the largest, publicly traded firms.

A report from U.S. Department of Labor noted– women outnumber men in mid-level occupations; e.g., financial managers; human resource managers; medical & health services managers; accountant & real estate; and social community service managers… So, although women have made substantial progress at middle management level, at the top leadership level the statistics are still quite depressing. In 2010, only 2.4% of U.S. Fortune 500 chief executives were female.

In FTSE 500, the statistics are even worse– only 1.8% of firms are led by women. Women’s access to ‘board of director’ seats is also troubling, particularly in U.S. and UK. In FTSE 100, 12.5% of directors are women, a tiny improvement on the 12.2%, in 2009 and 11.7%, in 2008. Then, what of the future?

According to ‘Ginka Toegel’; despite disappointing statistics, there are many reasons to be positive, for example; women managers, now, better understand that there are certain expectations related to corporate leadership and they are developing their skills accordingly… In next few years there should be a dramatic change, for the better, for women in corporate leadership.

In the articleWomen in Senior Management: Still not Enough by Grant Thornton writes: The past 12 months have seen women take the lead in some of toughest economic and political environments, for example: ‘Christine Lagarde’ became the first female to head the International Monetary Fund (IMF), ‘Angela Merkel’, German Chancellor, has emerged as the key figure in the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, and ‘Maria das Gracas Foster’ has taken over ‘Petrobras’, becoming the first woman to run one of the world’s top five oil companies.

Women also head governments in countries, such as; Argentina, Australia, Brazil and Thailand. Some key findings in the International Business Report (IBR) for women are:

  • Women hold one in five senior management roles globally, very similar to the level observed in 2004.
  • Businesses in Russia, followed by Botswana, the Philippines and Thailand have the most women in senior management; those in Germany, India and Japan the least.
  • Less than one in ten businesses has a female CEO, with women largely employed in finance and human resources (HR) roles.
  • Many economies, especially in Europe, are choosing to implement quotas on the number of women on corporation’s ‘board of directors’.
  • No clear correlation was found between; flexible work place practices or female economic activity, and the proportion of women in senior management or leadership positions.

The IBR survey, which encompasses both listed and privately held businesses, barely offers a brighter picture of female involvement in senior management, globally. It indicates that 21% of senior management roles globally are held by women, a figure which–despite much talk–  has barely changed since 2004 (19%). The U.S. has shown very little progress since 2004, with the proportion of women in senior management actually falling to 17%, in 2011, down from 20%, in 2004.

North of the border, in Canadian businesses, one in four senior management roles are held by women. In Latin America, the picture is fairly mixed with more than one in four senior management roles held by women in Brazil and Peru (both 27%), ahead of Chile (21%), Argentina (20%) and Mexico (18%). Globally, 34% of businesses have no women in senior management, roughly the same as the 2009 figure (35%).

However, this is largely driven by businesses in mature markets; 40% of those in the G7 have no women in senior management, compared to just 18% in the BRIC economies. Similarly, businesses in Europe (38%) and North America (30%) are behind their peers in ASEAN (20%) and APAC (exclude Japan, 19%) on this measure.

Why women in leadership positions really matters? Approximately one in every two people on the planet is female, yet the latest IBR finds that women hold barely more than one in every five senior management or leadership roles. A growing body of research suggests that such imbalance in corporate leadership can be detrimental to business growth prospects.

Research has shown that stronger stock market growth is more likely to occur where there are higher proportions of women on senior management teams. Another study found that businesses with greater proportion of women on ‘board of directors’ outperformed rivals, in terms of; returns on invested capital (66% higher), returns on equity (53% higher) and sales (42% higher).

The positive influence of women is thought to extend into strategy and management. For example, mixed gender ‘board of directors’ are thought to show better attention to; audit, risk oversight and control… Further, a recent study by University of Leeds, UK, found that having at least one female board member reduced that business’s chances of folding by 20%, and having more than one reduced the odds even further.

In the article Gender and Leadership by Nanette Fondas writes:  Several studies have shown that people perceive successful managers to have the characteristics typically associated with men; though the actual qualities successful managers possess are a combination of masculine (e.g., forcefulness, self-confidence, task orientation, initiative) and feminine (e.g., concern for people, feelings, and relationships) traits.

An obvious consequence of this is that a man is more likely to be selected for a leadership position than is a woman of equal qualification. Interestingly, women who do ascend, to leadership, do not behave significantly differently from men in the same kinds of positions.

According to Gary N. Powell’s comprehensive study, ‘Women and Men in Management’, women tend to employ a more democratic, participative style while men tend to take a more autocratic, directive approach. Some scholars argue that women’s tendency to negotiate, mediate, facilitate, and communicate is the more effective leadership style than men’s emphasis on power and control.

The other main question of concern is whether leadership position is implicitly a gendered concept. Organizations profess themselves to be gender-neutral, for example, with their practice of filling an abstract job with a person who possesses the requisite qualifications. But when job description for a leadership position is defined– ostensibly gender-neutral job, then, it’s not…

In the article What’s Next for the Corporate Woman? by Claudia H. Deutsch writes:  Not long ago, Rennie Roberts was rummaging through stack of books she had accumulated over years. She picked out a dusty copy of  ‘Games Mother Never Taught You’ by Betty L. Harragan’s (1976), which gave women, who were hoping to move up the managerial ladder, tips– on such concerns as; how to dress, when to drink with colleagues, how to handle intraoffice relationships…

It brought back a host of bittersweet memories: ”It was fun to remember how we used to worry about such things as; managing our inner feelings and our outer image,” said Ms. Roberts. ”Well, we’ve dealt with all that. There’s been an enormous change in U.S. business culture in the last 10 years, one that accepts a variety of personal expressions,” she said. ”There’s a recognition, in corporations, that the facts cannot be rolled back; that women, like it or not, are in the work force to stay”.

Yes, but in what capacity? As clones of successful men? As separate but equal colleagues? Or as submissive, albeit talented, employees? What, at this stage, do corporations owe women in management, in terms of helping them fit into corporate cultures that are still dominated by men? Not easy questions to answer…

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play them better than anyone else. ~Albert Einstein

DOES ‘STUPID’ EXIST IN CORPORATE AMERICA? If you’ve started out in life born stupid, don’t fret. Even if you’re an ignoramus, you can still wind up in a cushy management position some place in corporate America. Just think of all the lackluster bosses and department heads who’ve manipulated their way up the corporate ladder riding an insidious elevator to the top-level. To reach such authoritative heights they had to sacrifice their integrity.

But isn’t such a disparaging act considered the backbone of business theatrics? Granted, many incompetent men and women would never have made it without nepotistic noodling, political skulduggery, hanky-panky, or precision brown-nosing techniques. Play your cards right and there’s an executive assignment waiting for your inadequate leadership. If you are a bona fide dunderhead, a conniving opportunist with no scruples who doesn’t mind getting your nose a little dirty, you’re a perfect candidate for a management position somewhere in the workplace. Congratulations you schmuck! ~Boots LeBaron

Whether there are innately female leadership styles… is not really the right question. It’s more important to ask why there has been so little attention paid to women leaders over the years, and why styles of leading more often exhibited by women are particularly useful at this critical moment in history. ~Charlotte Bunch