Women fill only 20% of seats on boards for Fortune 500 companies. Is this really 2017?

Women fill only 20% of seats on boards for Fortune 500 companies. Is this really 2017?

INSIGHTS: from the Naked Headhunter


Just under a month ago, the world celebrated International Women’s Day and last week (4 April) we acknowledged Equal Pay Day.  This former is a holiday that’s viewed differently in different parts of the world.  In the Czech Republic, where my wife is from, the holiday is still recognized but somehow can’t quite shake the shadow of it’s being über-celebrated during the days of Socialism.  Elsewhere, it’s a perhaps a more standard, innocuous event via which people acknowledge women’s contributions to society.  This year, however, in light of global politics and economic shifts, 8 March (and 4 April as well for that matter) seemed to stand out much more … not so much for what women have achieved in business, but what they COULD achieve if we’d let them.

If you look at recent articles and commentary by media such as The Guardian or The Boston Globe, you see that females in corporate leadership roles and in board rooms are sorely lacking.  A recent analysis shows that women make up only 22% of all executive board positions in the UK.  Only 4% of boards in the UK have a 50:50 split of male/female members.  What’s interesting though, is that comparatively the boards of companies in Africa are not that far behind their European or US counterparts:  company boards in Kenya have 19.8% female members, followed by South Africa (17.4%) and Botswana (16.9%).

All this leaves me wondering: how do we change this situation?  It can’t be due to the fact that women are not successful in traditionally male-led industries.  In the UK, female CEOs run a top manufacturing firm, an electronics company, a pharma business and an IT service provider.

Ultimately, I think this is about perspective, culture and how we handle change.  So, if you need some good reasons for why to recruit female board members or female executives, here are a handful (based on both my personal experience and also borrowed from Sallie Krawcheck’s excellent book, Own It: The Power of Women at Work):

  • Women think long-term and plan for sustainability
  • Women are excellent brokers in debates and can help achieve consensus
  • Women are good networkers and remember favors past (this may help you find your next superstar recruit or new business opportunity)
  • Women are listeners and observers and can leverage the nuances of discussions for future strategic planning

To be continued … (next up: a commentary on how male business leaders can bring more female executives to boards)

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