December 19, 2011 — As another year winds down, I’m still finding inspiration and encouragement in the words of The Catalyst Canada Honours champions who have filled this space over the past three weeks.
And then I get a cold splash of reality with the release last week of the Catalyst Census of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. In brief, there has been no progress in the representation of women at senior executive and board positions in the past six years. The Census indicates that:
• Women held 16.1% of board seats in 2011, compared to 15.7% in 2010.
• About one in ten companies had no women serving on their boards.
• Women of colour still held only 3% of corporate board seats.
• Women held 14.1% of Executive Officer positions in 2011, compared to 14.4% in 2010.
• Women held only 7.5% of Executive Officer top-earner positions in 2011, while men accounted for 92.5% of top earners.
• Less than one in five companies had 25% or more women Executive Officers and more than one-quarter had zero.
In February, we’ll learn how Canada’s FP500 companies are performing in the representation of women on their boards, but we have no reason to anticipate that corporate Canada is more dynamically diverse than their counterparts south of the border.
We know that the presence of women in the boardroom has a positive effect on the bottom line. We know that diverse boards are more agile in dealing with a rapidly changing business environment. We know that women will be an important part of the response to an aging population and a shrinking workforce—and we know that other nations are taking steps to promote women and achieve the diversity that will give a competitive edge in the coming years and decades.
Taking my cue from Catalyst Canada Human Resources/Diversity Leader Michael Bach, I’m asking myself how I’m going to move out of my comfort zone to promote the advancement of women in business in 2012. Maybe it will be speaking up at social gatherings, or taking the time to encourage a young woman to expect more from herself and her career. Maybe it will be challenging an individual friend or colleague to change his or her views on diversity, or to act on these principles to sponsor a talented woman.
Change won’t happen until we step out and speak up for diversity and inclusion. Let’s make 2012 the year we change corporate culture, and make our businesses as diverse as our country.