Catalyst for change

A new study shows that diversity has flatlined in America’s largest companies.

Catalyst, a US-based think-tank,  tracks the composition of supervisory boards, executive teams and high earners in Fortune 500 companies to give an annual snapshot of diversity progress in some of the world’s largest and best-known organisations.

This year, 14.1 per cent of executive officers (those immediately below board level) were women, compared with 14.4 per cent last year. Deborah Soon, senior vice-president of strategy at Catalyst, says:

“These are the women who are board-ready and represent the pipeline for board positions, but their numbers are not increasing.”

Only one-fifth of companies had 25 per cent or more women in their senior executive teams, and more than a quarter had no women executive officers at all. Women held 7.5 per cent of top earner executive positions, down from last year’s 7.6 per cent.

Soon says:

“You would think that [with] numerous research demonstrating that performance improves with diverse boards and teams, that US companies would sit up and take advantage of it. But they haven’t.”

Board composition is the only area that has seen positive movement, albeit small. Today, 16.1 per cent of directors are women, up from 15.7 per cent last year. The numbers of chairwomen was static at 2.6 per cent.

Soon adds:

“When you peel away the census and look at what underlies it, there are some shocking revelations. Whether it is quota legislation or the threat of it, the stick seems to be working in many countries. The question in the US is ‘what is it that will get the job done’.”

While most chief executives are not in favour of quotas, setting targets is a priority, while shareholders, corporate customers and suppliers can all do their bit, says Soon.

“Women are promoted for their performance, while men are promoted for their potential. The single most important factor [for success] is for women to have an influential sponsor.”

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