Future Look |

Final Stop for Women’s Advancement Is the C-Suite


Closing the gender pay gap is the topic of the day when it comes to women’s advancement in the workplace. Increased representation in the C-Suite, however, is the next frontier.

Men hold 93% of the CEO positions in United States companies, according to research from Heidrick & Struggles. That percentage increases to 95% when examined across a sample size of 13 European countries. Research from ISS Analytics painted a similar picture, finding that the percentage of female directors is 24% in the U.S.

There have been some positive advances in this regard. In the European Union, some countries have legislation mandating more women on boards, and California recently did the same, requiring at least one female on each board of directors. But it remains a work in progress.

“Increasing women's representation in the C-suite is not a quick fix,” said Tracy Bosch, associate client partner at Korn Ferry. “The hurdles in advancing women are multi-dimensional, laced with unconscious bias and very hard to unravel.”

Bosch is based in Canada, which has an even lower percentage of female CEOs (3%) and directors (22%) than the U.S. She said the issue is cultural and systemic, which is why it will take time.

“The reality is that the path to the top was built by men, for men,” Bosch said. “No one is disadvantaging women on purpose, but the path to the top is based on expectations, norms and traditions that favor male leaders.”

ISS Analytics’ data supports this hypothesis, as it found that female executives appear less often at roles with profit-and-loss that often serve as stepping stones to the CEO role, such as COO, head of sales or CEOs of business units and subsidiary groups.

WorldatWork’s 2018 Total Rewards Programs & Practices survey found that an increasing amount of organizations are angling to solve the problem. The study found that 36% of respondents offered women’s advancement initiatives in their benefits, which was up from 27% in 2017.

It’s still the early days for this final stage of women’s advancement in the workplace, but with the right initiatives and advocacy, the future workplace should have equality across the board.

“Improving women's representation in the C-suite needs to be a priority at the board level for us to see real progress,” Bosch said. “Motivation for boards to take that seriously is increasing with pressure from investors, customers, employees and legislation.” 

Why Aren't More Women in C-Suite Jobs? 


Retail Advancement

Even though women comprise half the workforce in the retail and services sector, they are overrepresented in frontline positions and consistently underrepresented in higher-pay management roles, writes Fay Hanleybrown, Elizabeth Hawkins and Sandra Medrano in this Harvard Business Review article. Through extensive research, the authors identify 12 actionable and evidence-based practices that will help organizations advance more women into leadership roles in retail.    

Automation’s Effect on Female Workers

When depicting what future automation in the workplace looks like, men are the ones who are often portrayed. Molly Kinder writes that the male focus has obscured the reality that automation could have an even bigger impact on women because they are disproportionately employed in automation-risky jobs. In this piece for New America, Kinder cites research indicating that women constitute 54% of workers employed in high-risk occupations, despite comprising less than half of the total labor force.

The Difference is at the Top

In this Business Journals article, Anne Stych cites a study that shows women have actually experienced more wage growth since 2000 than men. However, when it comes to executive positions, women were paid 33.6% less in 2018 than men in the 95th percentile. For reference, the study revealed that from 2017 to 2018, there was stronger growth among the bottom 30% of women employees than among the top 20%.

The Next Frontier in Gender Diversity

Subodh Mishra takes a comprehensive look at the lack of females in the C-Suite in organizations across the world in this Harvard Law School article. Mishra writes that companies need to do a better job of creating a pipeline of female executive leaders in order to achieve more representation in the future.  

Roadmap for Success

Harshajit Sarmah lays out five ways women can rise to senior management roles in the Indian tech sector in this article for Analytics India Magazine. One way that Sarmah highlights is companies encouraging women to apply for leadership roles.

About the Author

Brett Christie is a staff writer at WorldatWork.

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