“Why is it okay to have groups that are focused solely on women in business?”
It’s a fair question. It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times, and the conclusion I’ve come to is because we need them to help progress women in the workforce and advocate for major change in a world built by and for men.
The majority of businesses and leadership positions in America are held by men. Men have traditionally designed business groups, leadership teams and boards of directors in a way that works best for men. While work has been done to open many of these areas to women, it’s still a man’s game, played by his rules. I have worked with some amazing male leaders who have been incredibly helpful to me along the way, but we can no longer ignore the reality that we need male leaders to start listening and sticking up for women in the workforce if we want to keep women in it. Men don’t intrinsically understand or see what the obstacles are for women, even when they are champions for women. Many of them have asked how they can be part of the solution, and we need them to be.
I’ve never aspired to be someone who leads women only groups. Throughout the years, I’ve met talented and ambitious women who’ve struggled to break through the glass ceiling. I’ve found they need community and they need advocacy that works to find solutions to the unique challenges women face in the workplace. The older I get, the more driven I am to be part of the solution.
The national statistics are bleak. In 2020, women held 38% of manager positions, while men held 62%. Please note that’s 2020, not 1950. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted, and only 7.4% of Fortune 500 companies were run by women. In addition, we are seeing major burnout for women, and analysts predict 1 in 3 women will leave their job or workforce altogether. I am certain the statistics are worse in the Midwest.
The pandemic has been a major setback to women in the workforce, and even more so to women of color. 1.8 million women left or were pushed out of the workforce. They’re dropping out because they’re burned out, they’ve been given additional childcare responsibilities as daycares and schools shut down, and they’ve been asked to perform at impossible levels throughout all kinds of setbacks and now a global crisis.
Women are still finding it hard to grab a seat at the table even though years of data shows that women-led companies drive major results. They are typically better at anticipating and meeting employee needs, more likely to offer childcare and equal pay, and are even more likely to meet yearly goals and drive revenue. But don’t just take my word for it. Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank says about 95% of the women-led companies he’s invested in met their financial targets, compared with just 65% of those with male leaders.
So, what is going to bring about real and lasting change? How do we get and retain women in positions of leadership, and when the heck can we expect it to happen?
First, we need to start listening to and meeting the needs of women in the workplace. The pandemic showed the ugliest cracks in our workforce, and it’s up to employers and companies to address the very real problems that have pushed women out of the workforce these last two years. That means better work-life balance, childcare solutions and access to healthcare.
We’re seeing and going to continue to see massive changes and massive shifts in our workforce, and if we aren’t careful, we’ll set ourselves even further back with gender equality in the workforce than we already have. We need women executive groups, women leadership groups and women-lead summits if we are going to shift the balance between what is to what could be. Part of that work must include helping men understand where and how they can advocate for women in their businesses and on boards of directors. We’ve fought for equality amidst major setbacks for long enough. Isn’t it about time we started to get this right?