In one of Beyoncé’s top-chart songs, that question is asked and answered several times: “Who run the world?” “Girls!”
This does not ring true, however, in the corporate world. While it is now beginning to realize the importance of gender equality and diversity, such realization is still not reflective of what is currently happening in corporate boardrooms.
An old boys’ club
A survey conducted by PwC showed women comprise 40 percent of today’s global workforce, yet women hold only 5 percent of global CEO positions. Beyond this, only 17 percent of board members in Fortune 500 companies are women.
At PwC Philippines, we are getting the right traction at this, given that 50 percent (14 out of 28) of the partners are women. Well done, partners!
However, looking at the top clients in my portfolio, only 20 percent (2 out of 10) of the client companies had women holding top positions as president or CEO. About 25 percent (16 out of 63) of them are represented on their corporate boards. Moreover, only 9 percent (two out of 22) hold audit committee representation. As the partner serving these clients, I’ve already gotten used to a number of meetings and presentations where I am the only woman in the boardroom.
The numbers tell the story. The corporate world is still very much an old boys’ club.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, explained the reasons behind the numbers in her book “Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead.” Her views on gender bias and the leadership ambition gap as culprits are certainly spot on.
First, the gender bias. At the top of the list is the large pay gap between men and women in the workforce – a huge 24 percent, based on a study by World Bank and highlighted in the Business Insider article. When we think of power in the corporate world, it is mostly correlated with men in suits, and rarely with women in corporate dress. When women hold executive positions, people often ask if she has a personal life, or if she is a good wife or mother, or how she does it all. This is rarely the case for men. Most of the time, men are promoted based on their potential, while for women, it’s based on their actual accomplishments. We’ve first seen Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Thor and Ironman as superheroes in the movies, and only recently, Wonder Woman. We need to correct such perception if we are to achieve real gender parity.
Second, the leadership ambition gap. More often, men would say an outright yes when offered a leadership position, compared with their female counterparts. Usually, men would raise their hands for higher position when they possessed “some” of the credentials required, while women would only do so if they had “all” the credentials.
In my performance and career coaching the managers in our firm, majority of the men would say straight away that they want to climb to the next position and become a partner. Very few female managers would readily say the same thing. Men are better wired to pursue leadership ambitions. Women need to follow suit.
Closing the gap
A study on Women on Boards and Firm’s Financial Performance: A Meta-Analysis at Lehigh University looked into 90,000 companies across 35 countries and found a clear link between the level of women’s representation on boards and improved market performance. This is most marked where women have a strong presence across all levels of leadership. Quartz reported on an algorithm developed by Karen Rubin that correlates female leadership to the stock performance of Fortune 1000 companies. Her findings reveal that women-led companies earned investors a 340 percent return, compared with an S&P 500 benchmark of only 122 percent.
So how do we close the gap? It starts with strong leadership support and action, followed by proactive engagement and dialogue across all levels of organization, among both men and women. In PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, 85 percent of CEOs, whose companies had a formal diversity and inclusion strategy, said it had improved their bottom line while also enhancing innovation, collaboration, customer satisfaction and talent attraction. As articulated by PwC’s former Global Chairman, Dennis Nally, “…to create a more equal world, everyone has a role to play.”
Women need to keep their hands raised, to seize and lean in for opportunities, to own their success, and to believe in themselves more. As highlighted by Sandberg in her book: “If you’re asked to ride a rocket ship, you don’t ask where, you simply get on board.”
My hope is that one day, someday – soon – we can have a better answer to Beyoncé’s song. Who run the world? Men, but equally, women too! Because that would be a better world. Corporate boardrooms certainly need an equal dose of girl power.
Imelda D. Mangundaya is a partner from Assurance, and Assurance Risk Management,of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. Email your comments and questions to email@example.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.