Progress Is Possible


This year’s Census shows women are gaining ground.

By Ellen Breyer, president,
Minnesota Women’s Economic Roundtable

In the five previous years that St. Catherine University and the Minnesota Women’s Economic Roundtable (MWER) have produced the Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership, our state’s top 100 public companies made little progress in diversifying their boards of directors or increasing the percentage of women executive officers. This year, however, women have gained some ground in companies statewide. In 2008, when the first Minnesota Census was published, women held 117 board seats, and only four women were CEOs in the state’s top companies. By 2013, there were 119 women board members and seven women CEOs.

While not dramatic, these increases are encouraging because the numbers of women on boards and in CEO positions has been increasing at the same time that the number of those positions has been decreasing. Taken together those factors resulted in a significant increase in the percentage of women serving on boards and as executive officers. Not only are we moving in the right direction, but women are holding their own in an environment with fewer leadership opportunities.

Even before we analyzed the data, however, 2013 felt like a turnaround year. Suddenly, welcome and much overdue attention was focused on the absence of women in top leadership roles. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, was published the same week in March as our 2012 Minnesota Census report, and the issue of women at work — how or whether they’re advancing, how much companies should be held accountable — received national media coverage.

Although the discussion is now out in the open, many corporate executives are still surprised by the low percentage of women in senior leadership and board positions. This report is a necessary reminder that we still have a long way to go. The Minnesota Census not only gives CEOs and board chairs accurate data about the overall status of women in top leadership positions, but it allows them to compare their company’s record with those of other companies in Minnesota and drive strategies to promote and select more women.

For 40 years MWER has provided a forum to discuss, encourage and support the advancement of women leaders in our community. Too often, however, promotion and selection stops outside the C-suite and the boardroom.

Corporate CEOs must drive this change not only for the benefit of women, but for the improved performance that women’s contributions bring to their companies and their customers. The 14 Honor Roll companies in the Minnesota Census — so named because they have at least 20 percent women corporate directors and at least 20 percent women executive officers — know this and are leading the way.