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

Don Tennant
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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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Mar 9, 2012 9:53 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to George Alexander

My guess is some people would say "men".  To some extent that may be true, but that probably over-simplifies the issue (in this man's opinion).

Boy do I have these subjects because it feels like a bear trap waiting to be sprung.

There are several reasons I can think of.

Don's post was not specific to IT - rather the boardroom.  In our industry fewer women enter the ranks of IT than other professions - so logic dictates that right away fewer women will work their way into executive positions.  If you want to see more women in executive positions in IT and other STEM fields, they first must be interested in entering the field to begin with so they have that chance to move up.

Let's take IT out of the equation because our profession adds additional complications to the discussion and just keep it high-level as business in general and fields women are more likely to enter.  Women have this additional thing they can do that men cannot (mind out of gutter guys) - which is to have babies and traditionally it is they who raise them. 

So some percent (I don't know what that is) of women drop out of the workforce to start families before they make it to the top.  If you can figure out the percent of women who drop out of the work force, then adjust, I wonder how represented they are in the board-room.  My guess is that they would still be under-represented and probably paid less but I'm not sure by how much.

Personally, I think that almost all people in the board room are paid too much so I really don't care that women in those ranks are paid less.  I think almost all of them should be paid even less no matter what gender they are.  You won't catch me shedding a tear for those poor female CEOs only making 200 times the salary of their average employee when the guys are making 400 times.  They can all bite me.

I would be way more concerned about disparities in the regular workforce Don before you look up the ladder.  It begins in cubicles and factory floors, not the executive lounge.

Mar 9, 2012 10:22 AM ITJob ITJob  says: in response to R. Lawson

"I think almost all of them should be paid even less no matter what gender they are."

Is this logic only applies to executive lounge or to every ladder?

Is it OK for you and me to get paid same as pizza delivery guys? or we should earn even less than that...because he has to drive to different location where as you and me sitting in office doing nothing but commenting in blogs  ...

I don't see any difference between you and those fighting for 99% and creating just one big class war in US.

Mar 9, 2012 10:37 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to ITJob

What we get paid should be relative to how we contribute to the profitability of a company. 

If I am not profitable, I get a pink slip and directions to the unemployment office. 

If CEOs are not profitable, they get a golden parachute and get to enjoy an early retirement in the lap of luxury.  I'll be looking for another job praying that I can find one before the savings run dry, and they will be looking for a good spot to place the grande piano.  Who knows, maybe they'll build a spot for it.

Even if I am profitable, they'll be shopping for a cheaper version of me offshore.  I don't see them shopping for a cheaper version of themselves offshore.  Strange, since they are the once paid 400 times the workers.  Instant savings right there yet that is the last place they will look.

"I don't see any difference between you and those fighting for 99% and creating just one big class war in US."

So you think that 99% of the wealth in the hands of 1% is not a problem?   You are right, there is no difference between me and those fighting for the 99%.  And I wouldn't call 99% vs 1% a "big class war" since 99% of the people would benefit from that skirmish. 

I don't think the tactics of the 99%-ers are effective, but I agree strongly with their basic argument that wealth should not be concentrated in the hands of the few - especially when it is the few who control our government and have the greatest influence on policies which will determine where wealth goes.

This isn't class warfare.  It's a battle for democracy and equal representation.

Mar 9, 2012 12:36 PM Wakjob Wakjob  says:

I think you mean "inequality" Don, not "inequity". Inequity implies some kind of injustice. maybe women just don't make better execs or board members. Why no outrage over the disproportionate number of blacks in the NBA, the disproportionate number of Japanese at Toyota, Honda, and Mitsubishi, or the disproportionate number of Indians in the US IT industry?

Mar 9, 2012 6:41 PM George Papich George Papich  says:

How about performance and competancy-based leadership selection?  I know that when I'm up for a performance review or promotion, I am comforted by knowing that the board evaluating me got there based solely on merit, not by any "affirmative action" quota system.

Mar 9, 2012 8:12 PM George Alexander George Alexander  says:

So what's stopping women from achieving whatever they want that's different from what men have to do?

Mar 10, 2012 8:19 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to Wakjob

No, I meant inequity, because the phenomenon is unjust. If you reply to this comment, or post any other comment, keep it civil or your comment will be deleted.

Mar 11, 2012 10:48 AM SealTeam6 SealTeam6 SealTeam6 SealTeam6  says: in response to Dolores

That perception is actually dependent on which side of the hiring spectrum you are on. To American citizens there is a shortage. To Indian citizens there isn't. Our industry captains read from the same numbers from different scripts giving different interpretations depending on the audience they are talking to about jobs.

Some years ago a story was going around that a large software company in the northwest had an unofficial/unwritten rule that single male developers were to be favored in the hiring process. Now that same company is facing complaints of creating false reports of shortages to lobby for foreign workers. A pattern of discrimination emerges. A race to the bottom.

Mar 11, 2012 3:13 PM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to Don Tennant

Once I had a young man working for me for a few months. After he left, he told people that during our time together he'd never seen me doing anything to pursue training or upgrade my skills. But during our time together I'd become one of the first in my area to install and support Windows 7, and I also took a formal training class and attained a PGP certification. Naturally I've done a lot before and since, but I thought I'd covered a respectable amount of self-improvement ground during our time together, but that didn't stop him from just lying. I'd also completed a Master's in my field just a few years before, which he chose not to notice. Ignoring our achievements and lying as a way of competing for scarce jobs has certainly impacted us, especially over the last decade as the IT labor pool got flooded and jobs got sent overseas. Hypercompetitive is what some (like Blaine Pardoe) called it.

Mar 11, 2012 5:35 PM SealTeam6 SealTeam6 SealTeam6 SealTeam6  says:

I think the inequity is just another manifestation of a steady decline of women in the tech workforce over the last decade. The ugly secret is women are probably viewed as even higher "cost" by our captains of the tech industry. Family responsibilities, maternity leave, and other normal aspects of a family life are seen as high overhead I'm sure. In our brave new world of outsourcing, it is easy to see why women would get the axe first .

Here is a study from the National Center for Women & Information Technology

According to a new report by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), the percentage of computer-related jobs held by women has declined steadily from its high of 36% in 1991, to just above 25% in 2008.Dr. Catherine Ashcraft, co-author (with Sarah Blithe) of Women in IT: The Facts, explained that there are a number of reasons for the decline: the dot-com burst in the late '90s leading to a perception that there aren't any jobs in the field a perception that technology and computer-related jobs have been outsourced to people in countries outside the US a misunderstanding about what the field really is higher visibility of other science fields and an image that these jobs are 'nerdy or geeky'

And not surprisingly:

Work/life balance is another issue driving women from the field. As the report notes, 'both men and women believe being family-oriented is not associated with success in technology.'


Working with outsourced development teams at 1 am in the morning is not something conducive to a healthy family life. And women take the brunt of this fallout.

The gender situation in the board room is just an extension of what is happening thoughout the industry. I daresay that the women who are already at the the boardroom level rose up at a time when the US tech industry was not committing intellectual suicide by outsourcing.

Mar 11, 2012 5:42 PM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to SealTeam6 SealTeam6

The perceptions about job scarcity are real.


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