Women Have Come A Long Way, but Not Far Enough

Women Have Come A Long Way, but Not Far Enough

Gender diversity in senior management roles continues to lag.

Six years ago this month, Twin Cities Business embarked on a new annual project tracking women’s progress ascending the corporate ranks.

We wrote a feature and held a live forum with C-suite executives, both looking at what organizations are doing to promote women, literally and figuratively. We also partnered with St. Catherine University to publish its annual report on the percentages of women holding top leadership positions in Minnesota’s largest public companies.

At the time, I was hopeful that by the end of the decade we would continue to see more women rising to CEO and other high-level leadership positions and serving on boards. Here’s what I said then:

The percentage of women in the U.S. labor force grew rapidly through the 1970s and has remained above 40 percent ever since. Yet the percentage of women in top leadership roles has remained low since this issue of Mpls. magazine was published in August 1975.


“Gender equality at work has always seemed natural to me. I work in an industry (communications and publishing) where women and men are perhaps more equal at top leadership levels than in most other industries. So it’s with that in mind that I originally thought that it made sense to continue with our magazine’s informal policy of staying away from ‘women in business’ stories or events. The thinking was that creating a class of ‘women in business’ would separate them rather than help to further blend genders in business. We didn’t want to imply there is a problem when, given our perspective, there isn’t, and shouldn’t be.

Then I noticed how little things had changed in the last 10 years when it comes to the number of women in CEO positions or on corporate boards of directors in Minnesota, and nationally. And upon looking into statistics and studies, and talking with a few corporate leaders about this subject, we found there is indeed a need to talk about it.

Women have represented more than 40 percent of the U.S. labor force for nearly 40 years and make up more than 51 percent of all management, professional and related positions. Studies continue to show that financial results improve the closer an executive team or board comes to being equally weighted between women and men.

Yet women lead only 3.5 percent of all Fortune 1000 companies. Closer to home, they hold just 6 percent of the CEO positions and 14 percent of the board seats at Minnesota’s 100 largest publicly traded companies.”

I’m happy to say things have improved since I wrote all of that. Today, women hold 8.3 percent of the CEO positions at our largest public companies, higher than the national average.

In 2011, 72 percent of our largest publicly traded companies had at least one woman director; by 2017 it had grown to 83 percent. In 2011, only 32 percent of such companies had two or more women directors; today it’s 50 percent. And women now represent 19 percent of all corporate board seats and 20.4 percent of executive officer positions at those firms, compared with 14.2 percent and 17.4 percent, respectively, six years earlier.

This is important to celebrate. In 2012, St. Kate’s set a goal for Minnesota’s largest public companies: By 2020, those firms would have boards that include 20 percent women. We’re on track to reach that.

But at this rate, it will take 31 years to reach the desired gender parity of 50 percent of Minnesota board seats held by women, and 59 years for equal representation in the C-suite.

That sounds awful, and to some proves a grand unfairness in the promotions arena. Meanwhile, sexual harassment and sexism have gained much deserved attention of late.

Gender parity is delayed by such issues, in some instances. But the primary reason we’re not seeing more equalized leadership ranks is due to myriad, complex issues ranging from U.S. corporate culture’s need for a better work/life balance; to some women’s preconceived notions about how they may be judged, regardless of what the rules allow or encourage them to do. The issue remains systemic and cultural, including how we still program so many children to believe they have to fit society’s expectations of what men and women are supposed to be like.

And there remain important questions left unanswered? Are women vying for top corporate jobs in the same proportion as men are? If not, why not? And for those who care, what should be done about it, by whom?

Read more from this issue

We’ve had a fantastic dialogue on this subject going on seven years now. And we continue it this year beginning with our annual story, a provocative guest commentary and St. Kate’s annual census report. I invite you to dive in, and then to join us for our annual panel discussion on April 10. tcbmag

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