A Look at Progress for Women in Corporate Leadership Roles

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The Women Business Collaborative (WBC) with Ascend, C200 and Catalyst has released its second annual report: “Women CEOs in America: Changing the Face of Business Leadership.” The report, which draws on data and includes the most comprehensive breakdown of women in corporate leadership in the U.S., was released in October.

Drawing on data from Fortune 500 and 1000, S&P, Russell 3000 and private companies, the report is a comprehensive look at women running public and private companies, as well as women-led start-ups and female entrepreneurs with more than $500 million in revenue. It also spotlights the status of diverse women CEOs and provides an assessment of the women in the executive suite pipeline, a critical piece of the puzzle for elevating more women to the CEO role.

The report shows that today 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. The data for 2021 is as follows:

While the numbers for women in leadership are moving in the right direction, with the Fortune 500 up to 8.2% from 6.6% in 2019, progress is still too slow and not reflective of the nation. Women of color hold only 1% of CEO positions across the Fortune 1000.

“WBC members share two abiding principles: a belief in the transformative power of business to effect change, and the imperative to create more diverse leadership teams who can meet the moment of a rapidly evolving world,” said Edie Fraser, CEO of WBC.

“Reporting on the hard data, sharing the facts and telling the real stories is critical to accelerating progress toward advancing more women – and more women of color – in business.”

Ten specific accelerators for companies of all types to join the WBC movement to help strengthen the pipeline of women leaders and make diversitya priority in succession planning were discussed in a recent roundtable that took place at the time the survey results were released. These include intentionality, sponsorship, advocacy and working together to drive change.

Moderated by 2021 NPC President Lisa Matthews, the Women CEOs in America roundtable discussion included expert insights from Fraser and WBC’s partners, including Anna Mok, President & CEO of Ascend and Ascend Foundation; Kimber Maderazzo, Chair of the Board of C200; Lorraine Hariton, CEO of Catalyst; Jenny Johnson, CEO of Franklin Resources; and Margery Kraus, Founder and Executive Chair and former CEO of APCO Worldwide.

“Progress is very slow,” said Matthews. “It’s hard to believe we are in the year 2021 and we are still talking about firsts for women and the need for women to be engaged because we know that women are behind everything. At the AP we say there’s a great writer behind every story. There’sa great woman behind every business.”

“Undisputed progress at large is too slow and for women of color it is even slower,” added Mok. “We are often forgotten, and I can say that because I think that’s what the numbers show. We have to make regular strides …I think it’s important for companies to really think about and be intentional about that.”

“We need to make progress happen at a much quicker pace,” said Hariton. “We have set a goal for the Fortune 500 to be at 15% by 2025 and right now we are only on track for 10% – that’s not good enough.”

“We’ve talked so much about women being in these roles and in the pipeline,” added Maderazzo. “We need to celebrate them and keep them in these roles and they need to bring other women up with them.”

“We talk about purposeful leadership,” said Johnson.

“I think that women often resonate with what they do in a purposeful way. Unconscious bias is real, and I think women have at times been left behind because there’s assumptions about the certain way in which they react to something that maybe others view as a weakness.”

“Now there’s proof in a lot of studies that having diversity and having women in leadership is important,” concluded Kraus. “I think what the pandemic has proven is that empathetic leadership – which is normally associated with women [and] being empathetic seen as a weakness – [is] such a strength and that is helping people understand the value of women in leadership positions.”

Women Business Collaborative is an alliance of more than 59 women’s business organizations, Advisory and Leaders Council champions, companies and individuals working together to achieve equal position, pay and power for all women in business.

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