New reports paint starkly different pictures of progress for women in Corporate America and almost everywhere else
Score one for corporate feminism.
For all the depressing recent news about sexual and workplace harassment of women, some underrepresented minorities did notch up notable successes this year. According to Spencer Stuart, a recruitment firm, women and ethnic minorities comprised half of the 397 independent directors added at S&P 500 companies this year. In effect, that makes 2017 the best year for non-white male board execs since 1998.
Of those elevated at America’s 500 largest listed companies this year, 198 were white men, 142 were women of various ethnicities, and 57 were non-white males. By contrast, of nearly 400 directors promoted in 2008, only 67 were female. This increase comes as companies are slowly but surely recognizing the importance of diverse representation in the workplace. Indeed, PwC’s recent survey of corporate directors found that a majority of big wigs agree that having a mix of gender and racial perspectives is crucial in the boardroom—though a large minority of male directors (35%) didn’t think that gender representation was particularly important.
External pressure is also forcing these companies to shape up. Shareholders “keep raising the issue of board diversity,” a senior executive at Spencer Stuart told the Wall Street Journal, adding that companies now “recognize the need to add directors with experience in emerging areas critical to the company’s future success.”
Still, change is haltingly slow. Despite these women highflyers being newly recognized, the percentage of female directors across all S&P 500 boards rose only slightly—from 21% last year to a current 22%.
The picture significantly darkens when attention turns to the World Economic Forum’s new Global Gender Gap report. The WEF, a nonprofit created by the great and good to study and solve pressing global problems, analyzed the gender divide based on four factors: economic participation and opportunity, education attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. It found a current gap of 32% between men and women worldwide, a slight uptick from 31.7% in 2016. Perhaps most depressingly, the WEF says that it’ll now take 100 years for the 106 countries it studied to close the gap—up from a sprightly 83 years when it issued its 2016 findings.
As they are wont to, the Nordic nations came in top of the pile. Iceland was in first place when it comes to gender parity, with Norway and Sweden close behind. Meanwhile, the United States dropped four places to #49 on the index, in large part because the WEF thinks female political empowerment has dipped to its lowest level since the last full year of the George W. Bush administration. The gender gap in America now stands at 28%, a drop of 2% from 2015.
According to the Swiss nonprofit, this is primarily because the number of women in cabinet-level positions has significantly decreased under Donald Trump’s presidency. Only four women currently head cabinet-level departments in Trump’s administration. (He has also nominated a woman—Kirstjen Nielsen—to take over as Homeland Security boss.) That compares to seven for Barack Obama’s first cabinet.
That said, the WEF also notes that women have made significant progress in education attainment in the U.S., and that bears well for the future.
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