On this year’s International Women’s Day, Tuesday, March 8th, we reflect on the fact that study upon study proves that when women are present in corporate and government leadership, there is more collaboration and economic growth; yet progress is slow. Nevertheless, some believe that women should not be singled out with their own day.
The World Economic Forum conducts research annually measuring the gender gap country by country in education, healthcare, political representation and the economy. While the gender gap is narrowing in some countries, in others it is widening. In the Nordic countries the gender gap has closed more than 80% and these countries rank in the top 5 with Iceland #1. Moving up quickly are Nicaragua, Rwanda, Ireland and Belgium at 6th – 10th place. The U.S. is 20th, Brazil is #71, China is #87 and Japan is #104 .
While 57% of those enrolled in U.S. college and grad schools are women (according to Federal numbers), the number of women leaders in senior level positions in the U.S. pale. With 45 % of women in the pipeline in 2015 only 17 % are in the C-suite, according to a recent study by McKinsey and LeanIn.org . According to the study, women are still underrepresented at every level. The reasons are complex, but they are not due to women’s capabilities. They are partially due to companies’ practices and cultures. Many women believe there are less opportunities for them. Others say women have less of an appetite for senior roles to better balance work with family. The study reports that women also say stress/pressure is another obstacle. With the role at home still falling more on women, they are at a disadvantage, often unwilling to take on opportunities requiring more travel and longer hours.
A key area impacting women’s promotion potential is their network. Either they have none or they participate in less significant ones. This is one reason I encourage women to build stronger networks with more influential leaders both inside and outside their organization. Women must take a proactive approach to building trusted relationships will leaders who will, guide, support and sponsor them. It is also critical women have a vision for their own careers and not just take any position that is offered. When a woman has a vision for her career and she shares it she can get the benefit of insight and advice on how best to navigate the corporation to reach the position for which she aspires.
Considering all of this, is International Women’s Day needed? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. It serves to remind us that change still needs to be made to utilize the talents and skills of half the world’s population. Women are key collaborators, peacemakers and nurturers. Men and women need to be reminded of the many contributions women make and discuss how to continue to move women leaders up globally to more leadership positions. International Women’s Day gives us the opportunity to focus on this conversation and take action. – Leslie Grossman, Vistage Chair; author, LINK OUT: How to Turn Your Network into a Chain of Lasting Connections (Wiley); Vice-Chair, Global Advisory Council, Impact Leadership 21.