International Women's Day Question: Why the Boardroom Inequity?

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If you've been on Google today, you saw via the Google Doodle that today is International Women's Day. It's a good day for a little corporate introspection to consider why women are so dramatically underrepresented in corporate board rooms and C-suites, and what companies can do to address the inequity.


One organization that's doing more than just talking about the issue is Catalyst, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of opportunities for women in the workplace. The organization today announced an initiative that addresses the inequity in Canada, a country it says is noticeably absent from the global boardroom diversity movement. In fact, Catalyst research has found that the proportion of women on Canadian boards rose only half a percentage point between 2009 and 2011. Women currently hold just 14.5 percent of board seats in Canada's Financial Post 500 companies, and 10.3 percent in public companies. Equally disturbing, Catalyst found that almost 40 percent of FP500 companies, and over 46 percent of public FP500 companies, have no women serving on their boards.


Catalyst today issued a call for Canadian corporations to become signatories of the Catalyst Accord, under which they pledge to increase the overall proportion of FP500 board seats held by women to 25 percent by 2017. To challenge the assumption that qualified women can't be found, Catalyst said it will maintain a list of board-ready women candidates, and distribute it upon request to the boards of companies that sign the Accord.


It's important to point out that Catalyst's current focus on Canada should lead no one to presume that the United States is doing a whole lot better with respect to board or C-suite gender diversity. In December, Catalyst released a research brief, "Women in U.S. Management," which included some disturbing findings. As of 2010, over half of what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "management, professional and related positions" in the U.S. labor force were held by women. Yet despite that fact:


  • In 2011, only 16.1 percent of Fortune 500 board seats were held by women.
  • As of 2008, only 15.7 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officer positions were held by women.
  • In 2011, only 14.1 percent of executive officer positions were held by women, down from the 2010 figure of 14.4 percent.


We obviously still have a long way to go in this country, so kudos to Google for bringing attention to the fact that today is International Women's Day. Of course, what would be a little more meaningful would be for Google, which in 2011 ranked No. 92 on the Fortune 500 list, to put some action behind its Doodle brush. According to information on Google's website, only three of its 10 board members are women (well above average, but still kind of lopsided), and zero of its six executive officers are women. As is the case in boardrooms and C-suites in the rest of corporate America, it's not a pretty picture.

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