Contemporary advice for corporate women may overlook the roadblocks that still exist.
By Joann Bangs, Ph.D., and Rebecca Hawthorne, Ph.D., St. Catherine University
Sheryl Sandberg’s provocative book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013), has prompted lively conversations in boardrooms, executive suites and various segments of society across the nation. The Facebook executive’s work has raised the visibility of leadership challenges facing women in corporate America.
Focusing on the internal barriers to women’s leadership such as lack of self-confidence and a tendency of “pulling back when we should be leaning in,” Sandberg argues that women leaders are themselves the “key to the solution.” By attending to what women can change themselves, she posits, women will “reignite the revolution by internalizing the revolution.”
Leaning in, however, requires support. In the words of one woman leader, “I leaned in until I fell over!” External barriers such as lack of role models, exclusion from informal networks, entrenched m
indsets, lack of flexibility, difficulty in securing sponsors and focus on accomplishment vs. potential in promotions prevent women from fully “leaning in” to corporate leadership roles (McKinsey, 2011).
In short: Where women work is as important as how women work.
The Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership identifies those public companies within our state that have provided the support necessary for both women and men to succeed in senior leadership roles in boardrooms and executive suites.
The business case for diversity is strong. According to Catalyst (a nonprofit organization that expands opportunities for women at work), placing women in corporate leadership roles has a variety of benefits, including:
- Improved financial performance
- Leverage of talent
- Enhanced reputation
- Market reflection (mirroring those who make buying decisions)
- Increased innovation
- Stronger performance.
In order to harness the full potential of the Minnesota economy, talented women and men alike must attain and excel in corporate leadership roles. The outlook is encouraging: Minnesota’s public companies made strides in 2013 toward increasing the number of women corporate leaders.
Noteworthy progress: The sixth annual Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership reveals noteworthy progress in diversifying both Minnesota boardrooms and senior executive suites in fiscal year 2013 (ended June 30, 2013).
For the first time since the Minnesota Census began in 2008, the numbers of both women corporate directors and women executive officers rose in Minnesota’s largest 100 publicly held companies — which range in revenue from $3.6 million to $110.6 billion.
Women held 14.9 percent of the board seats of Minnesota’s 100 largest publicly held companies in 2013. This reflects the highest percentage of women corporate directors recorded to date. The total number of available board seats increased by five seats in 2013, with a net increase of four women corporate directors.
In hard numbers, women stepped into 11 of the 93 available directorships at Minnesota companies in 2013, or 11.8 percent of the available seats. These numbers reflect progress but also highlight additional opportunity for improvement.
Women of color: Opportunity also exists to improve the representation of women of color on Minnesota boards.
Gains were made in 2013 with the addition of one woman director of color. Seventeen women of color currently serve across 14 of Minnesota’s largest publicly held companies, holding only 2.1 percent of the total available board seats, an increase since 2012 of 0.1 percentage point.
The corporate leadership of 86 of the state’s 100 largest publicly held companies still does not reflect Minnesota’s shifting demographics.
Executive officers: Women executive officers increased their representation in senior leadership roles (Section 16b positions) to 18.6 percent in 2013, the highest percentage of women executive officers recorded to date and an increase of more than 1 percentage point from 2012.
The number of open executive officer positions decreased across Minnesota’s 100 largest publicly held companies from 665 positions in 2012 to 641 positions in 2013, yet the number of women executive officers increased.
Perhaps even more noteworthy, a number of companies moved from the pervasive “one-woman show” on their boards or senior executive teams to two, three or even four women.
Research documents the positive impact of women leaders once a critical mass of three or more women or over 30 percent female representation is reached — an impact that includes better financial performance (McKinsey, 2007).
Positive return on equity occurred when boards were made up of about 30 percent women (Galbreath, 2011) as did an increase in innovation (Dezso and Ross, 2012) and group performance (Woolley, Chabris, Women at the Table: Six-Year Trend et.al, 2010).
￼￼One woman director and /or one woman executive officer — still the most common practice across Minnesota’s 100 largest publicly held companies — does not sufficiently change the face and alter the impact of corporate leadership.
Fourteen Minnesota companies had three or more women directors, and 12 Minnesota companies had three or more women executive % Women Directors officers in 2013. We celebrate those successes even as we urge all board members, board nominating chairs and C-suite officers across the state to continue working toward greater inclusion and diversity, which leverages the full array of talent and yields a stronger bottom line.