Women’s History Month is not only a time to celebrate progress, but also serves as a call to action to continue moving the needle forward. This year feels especially unique given the challenges that our society – and specifically working women – have faced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
First, I do think it’s important to look at the glass being half full rather than half empty. Through that lens, I want to acknowledge some of the great progress that has been made over the past 50+ years that I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced first-hand. From the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963 and Title IX in 1972 to Walter Mondale’s naming of U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as the first woman vice president nominee by a major party and now Kamala Harris actualizing that title this past January, there’s a lot to be proud of. I’ll never forget hearing Gloria Steinem’s first public speech that catapulted her engagement with the women’s movement and solidified her role as a feminist icon. Most recently, I was thrilled to see Walgreens name Roz Brewer as its new CEO, making her the only Black woman leading a Fortune 500 company. These gems sprinkled throughout our history keep me hopeful that there’s more greatness to come. But it’d be naïve to say that there isn’t a lot more work that needs to be done, particularly as it relates to female representation in the C-suite.
The good news is that recent years have served as a wake-up call that time is running out, and full diverse equality in the C-suite is now an imperative. At the beginning of 2020, the presence of women in corporate America was slowly improving and representation in the C-suite grew from 17 to 21 percent (Source: Women in the Workplace 2020, LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, 2020). Cue the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now here we are in the year 2021 finding ourselves at the precipice of a yet another historic moment-in-time that will impact women in the workplace for years to come.
Research and statistics signal that an estimated two million women are considering leaving the workforce due to challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, including increased pressures and burnout from trying to maintain pre-COVID-19 professional expectations as well as balance personal responsibilities including childcare. Senior-level women are notably 1.5 times more likely than their male counterparts to think about downshifting their role or leaving the workforce because of COVID-19. As a leader in the executive search industry, this is particularly concerning to me as it means there’ll be far fewer women on track to become future C-suite candidates. In fact, this should really scare all businesses, as the potential financial implications are significant. Research from McKinsey shows that profits are close to 50 percent higher for companies with female leadership. And what’s more, senior-level women have an immense and meaningful impact on company culture.
So, what’s our path forward? This moment requires reflection and redefinition to create a workplace that is more flexible, sustainable, and conducive to the success of all employees including women and women of color. Based on my 40+ years in the executive search industry, I know that the process of reflection and redefinition begins at the leadership level. I’ve always been passionate about getting more women in leadership positions; it’s what Diversified Search Group was founded on. Creating a level playing field remains core to our mission and is something that we work towards every day, and we’re proud to say that over 50% of the executives that we’ve placed over the last two years have been women.
Strong leaders that practice empathy and recognize the value that women bring to organizations and the economy at large will be imperative to create a better, more equitable future. This Women’s History Month join me in reflecting, redefining, and continuing to move the needle forward.