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December 14, 2011Change has flatlined—women are no further toward achieving top ranks in business than they were last year, or even six years ago. Yet equality can’t wait.

Our latest census of women atop the Fortune 500 shows continued stagnation. Men hold a staggering 83.9% of corporate board seats, 85.1% of Executive Officer positions, and 92.5% of top earner positions. While I applaud the hundreds of companies that have achieved real results, others haven’t gotten the message that valuing talented women is not a “nice-to-do,” but a “smart-to-do.” We found that 56 companies in the Fortune 500 had zero women directors and that 136 Fortune 500 companies had zero women executive officers.

These new numbers are deeply disappointing. Some companies are still sitting on their hands. It’s time to commit to action, and the best time to jumpstart this change is now.

Here’s why.

Today’s tough economic times present an opportunity. Our latest report in our Bottom Line series tracked profits at leading companies through 2008—one year into the global recession. We found that companies with three or more women board directors in four of five years outperformed companies with zero women on their boards by on average 84% return on sales, 60% return on invested capital and 46% return on equity. Given the clear correlation, it’s no wonder that Goldman Sachs recently found that closing gender gaps would yield a 9% bump to U.S. GDP!

And it’s not just about the money. Companies with more women board directors are linked to more women corporate officers five years later, and correlated with increased corporate philanthropy. In short, it pays to have women as a key part of the leadership team.

So let’s get to work and root out sexist stereotypes that impact talent management systems. Set targets with accountability, especially around proven solutions like sponsorship. And dump the myths about women’s capabilities and ambitions—our research shows that they are wrong.

When US corporations finally take their place as leaders on gender parity and advancing women in business, the benefits will spread across the globe for women, men, families, employers, communities, and societies. Defy assumptions and lead with real action.

Enough lip service. It’s what companies do that really counts.