Here we are, well into the second decade of the twenty-first century, and the vexed topic of gender in corporate life is commanding more serious attention than ever before. Much of this focuses on why, so many years on from equality legislation, women have still not achieved parity with men at the top of the business world. A growing number of governments have opted to enforce better gender balance on company boards through quotas, while others resist legislation in favour of a high-pressure mixture of cajoling and praise.
This spotlight on the top of big businesses is obscuring signs of a subtle shift away from the Western male domination that characterised the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is showing up in many different ways: the feminization of leadership styles, the importance of female purchasing power, the disruptive impact of the internet on business models, the shift of economic power from West to East, and the change in men’s roles and attitudes towards work and family life. Companies ignore these trends at their peril.
10 key data to talk about women and leadership
- According to 20-first, a gender consultancy firm, women hold 17% of senior management roles in America’s 100 largest companies. The equivalent figures for Europe and Asia are just 11% and 4%.
- In a fresh analysis of 3,000 companies published in 2014, the Crédit Suisse Research Institute found that more balanced boards and senior management teams were both associated with higher returns on equity, higher price/book valuations and superior stock price performance
- OECD projections, based on current trends, show that women will account for two out of three graduates across advanced economies in 2020.
- The Barclays Women in Leadership Total Return Index, has been launched to track and invest in female-led companies or companies with mixed-gender boards.
- Female consumer power is immense. An oft-quoted statistic from Michael J. Silverstein and Kate Sayre is that women globally control at least $20 trillion of consumer spending per year.
- A study by Barclays on unlocking the female economy found that the gender pay gap was reversed for wealthy entrepreneurs and business owners, with men trailing behind their female counterparts “This suggests that women will tend to achieve greater financial success in an environment that is purely market-driven, rather than a more traditional job in which pay must be negotiated,”.
- A study by Illuminate Ventures reveals that high-tech companies built by women use capital more efficiently than the norm. “More than ever before, women are influencing the face of business,”it says. “They are on the cusp of becoming a leading entrepreneurial force in technology.”
- Women hold much greater sway in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia than in most Western economies. Russia tops the table with women in 43% of senior roles, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, the Baltic States, Thailand and China. By contrast, the US (where women occupy only 22% of senior roles), Spain (also 22%), India (14%) and Japan (9%) are among the bottom 10 of the 45 countries surveyed, according to Grant Thornton’s International Business Report.
- But women in sub-Saharan Africa are setting up businesses on a par with men. In Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia, there are even more female- than male-run early-stage businesses.
- A record 40% of US households with children under 18 have mothers who are the sole or primary source of income for the family. Of these, 37% are married women earning more than their partners, and 63% are single mothers.