An amazing thing happened in January of 2019. Without a great deal of fanfare, Nevada swore in the first majority-woman legislature in the history of the United States. Fifty-two percent of Nevada’s assembly are now women.
Yet Nevada’s success is still more exception than rule. Among all 50 states, only Colorado’s legislature comes close at 47 percent. Even in the U.S. Congress, where gains in the 2018 midterm election pushed women to historic levels of representation, only about 24 percent of the seats are held by women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. All despite the fact that 53 percent of voters were women in the last election.
The picture is similar in business. Women hold an increasing percentage of management roles and 6.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2019, an historic number. Yet women make up almost half (47 percent) of the American workforce.
Such is the state of play as we celebrate International Women’s Day March 8, a day in which the achievements of women have been celebrated globally for more than 100 years. “Historic progress has been made in politics, in business and in technology,” said Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and COO of Phone2Action. “But there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done.”
Equality Benefits Everyone
The website for International Women’s Day notes something important: “Equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue.”
The theme is echoed in an increasing body of research showing that diverse groups, whether in work teams, executive suites or government, simply perform better than homogeneous groups. Grant Thornton, a strategic management consultancy that has tracked performance at thousands of companies for 15 years, released a report on women in business last year. The conclusion: “Gender diversity isn’t just the right thing from a social standpoint; it’s the best thing for business.”
As Kim Schmidt, global leader for leadership, people and culture
at Grant Thornton International, put it, “There is a significant research base demonstrating a strong correlation between diversity at a leadership level and business results. In today’s complex, volatile environment, organisations need to be responsive and innovative. And we know there is a direct link between innovation and diversity.”
Data shows that diverse companies can book more revenue. So says a Harvard Business Review article that points to a McKinsey study in 2015 showing that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have revenues above the average for their industry. The top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 35 percent to see such performance.
The Nevada legislature has also seen major change since women became the majority.
“Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers,” The Washington Post reported in May. “Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.”
The Post continued: “The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.”
Increasing Female Representation
So how do we continue to increase the number of women in leadership? The burden of making change lies on everyone—not just women—but women can be particularly effective when they help other women through professional organizations and other means.
Of course, much can be done with workplace policy as well. Grant Thornton points to paid parental leave, flexible hours, part-time working and remote working as strategies that can make a huge difference. “The importance of these policies is
shown in research by Catalyst, which revealed that 83% of women with access to flexible working arrangements aspired to the C-suite level, versus 54% of those without,” the report said.
In the Nevada legislature, the change did not happen without hard work.
“Nevada didn’t reach this landmark by accident,” the Post reported. “A loosely coordinated campaign of political action groups and women’s rights organizations recruited and trained women … One of those organizations, Emerge Nevada, said it trained twice as many female candidates ahead of the 2018 midterm election as it had in the preceding 12 years.”
“Empowering women to take on leadership roles is vital work, whether in politics, government, technology or the corporate world,” Hartsock said. “It is something that must be addressed with programs and policies, but it also takes personal dedication. Each of us must contribute. Women must help other women, and International Women’s Day is a great time to reflect on that.”
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