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Why Only 23% of U.S. Business Leadership Spots Belong to Women

by Megan Totka

Megan-TotkaDid you know that Russia is the country with the highest proportion of women in senior leadership positions? At 43 percent, the Eastern European nation, often pigeonholed for being behind the times, is actually well ahead of the U.S. (at just 23 percent) and Britain (just 20 percent) in this area.  The results are part of a Grant Thorton International Business Report that also ranked Japan at the bottom of the list for the tenth year in a row at just 9 percent.

Russia’s percentage of women in senior leadership positions is surprising, but so is the United States’ percentage. Forget equality at the top – we aren’t even halfway there. The U.S. percentage of women in its upper tier of business leaders is actually closer to the worst nation, Japan, than to the best, Russia. But why? It’s a multi-dimensional answer.

Our Culture Perpetuates It

Woman photographerFor as much as we think we hear about gender equality in the media, there is actually not a whole lot going on to actually change our perception of a male-dominated culture. Even in Hollywood, often considered one of the most progressive industries in the entire country, females experience inequality. The recent Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California found that in movie and TV crowd scenes, just 17 percent of the people are female on average. This may not seem like too big of a deal – but it piggybacks on the fact that men directors outnumber women by nearly 6 to 1 and it is still difficult to find programs that pass the Bechdel test (a movie or TV show where two named female characters have a meaningful conversation about anything other than men passes this test). What we see on the screen often becomes our cultural story and in the case of the U.S., it seems there is a strong argument to be made here.

Businesses Don’t Prioritize Gender Equality

A 2010 survey of executives from around the world found that 72 percent think gender diversity brings a business greater success. However, only 28 percent said it was a priority for their company. So if business leaders agree that it is helpful to the bottom line, why isn’t there more being done to change the status quo? That is a good question – and one that needs to be addressed before any real progress toward equality can be made.

Women Don’t Shoot for the Top

Yes, there are some gender prejudices that certainly exist. Yes, the wage gap between men and women is hard to ignore. But all that aside, women still aren’t doing a good enough job of stepping up to the leadership plate or exhibiting confidence when it comes to positions that they are qualified to take on. We look at people like Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer with awe, and as the exception and not the rule. While Mayer’s accomplishments are to be applauded by men and women alike, she should not be put on a pedestal. She should be a realistic example of what women are able to do with the right amount of tenacity and confidence.

The path to true workplace leadership equality is being paved every day but it will take a more concerted push from women workers, businesses and society as a whole to really achieve the goal.

Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. 


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