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The Glass Ceiling at 40 Years: Are We Letting Women Lead?
4 / 23 / 2018
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Next month it will be 40 years since management consultant Marilyn Loden first described the invisible barrier women in the workplace face as ‘the glass ceiling.’ But how has life changed for working women since then?

At a time when the ‘#MeToo’ and ‘#TimesUp’ movements are highlighting the many challenges women encounter, there has been a welcome shift in attitudes towards gender inequality in this country. However, with federal data revealing that full-time working women still earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn, there is still a long way to go.

Women don’t just face gender inequality for wages, but also racial disparities. According to a 2016 report from Pew Research Center, the hourly earnings of Asian and white women are higher than those of black and Hispanic women, setting some women of color even further behind men.

Disappointingly, women CEOs still account for a meager 5% of the largest public American companies, despite research showing that gender diversity on boards pays off. Several studies have found that women in leadership roles go hand-in-hand with strong financial performance. Likewise, a study by the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business concludes that firms with women on their boards are more likely to be forward thinking with a sustainable or ethical approach to business.1 (Incidentally, we debunk the myth that other ESG practices mean worse performance here!)

Women CEOs can be great for business, yet they are still greatly outnumbered by men. Leadership expert Joanna Barsh, a top McKinsey & Co executive, has spent time researching what holds women back from senior positions. She identifies four major obstacles women face:

  • The inability to move from discussion to action because of a lack of female leaders and mentors
  • Biased performance evaluations
  • Lack of workplace flexibility for women who start a family
  • The competitive nature of the workplace

She believes that empowering women in the workplace to reach their full potential may require investment and that with ‘resolve and grit’ change can be made sooner rather than later.

Even when women are promoted to the boards of big US companies, they are often given fewer leadership roles, according to a report by Yaron Nili, an assistant professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School.2

He concluded: “A truly diverse board gives women more than a seat at the table – it grants them the ability to have a voice and an impact. Gender diversity discourse… must look beyond the numbers of female directors on the board and account for the roles that these directors take once appointed.”

Last year, OpenInvest and HIP Investor combined forces to rank the best (and worst) companies for gender diversity in America. Top firms for gender equality included Aetna, Gap, Humana, Macy’s, Target, Tiffany, TJ Maxx, and Wells Fargo.

What can you do to encourage more gender diversity in the corporate world? When firms are lagging, write to the CEO, board, and investor relations to request a more diverse board. Make sure you vote in shareholder resolutions requesting that firms release their diversity data and save space for women at the top. Meanwhile, you can reward the leaders and send a major signal by aligning your investments with your values. Our Women in the Workplace screen allows you to proactively invest in companies with at least one woman on the board. By joining us to take a stand we can strive to raise the bar for minimum board seats, C-suite inclusion and improve gender equality in business.

Once you are an OpenInvest user you can also use your shareholder vote to support qualified female candidates in board elections. You can do even do this with a simple swipe thanks to our pioneering app.

  1. Women Create Sustainable Value
  2. Beyond the Numbers: Substantive Gender Diversity in Boardrooms
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