Statistics show a grim future for females looking to stay on top at America’s most successful companies. Although past generations may have envisioned 2013 as a better and brighter future for women, figures reveal that women in the workplace are still living in the shadow of their male counterparts.
In 2011 there were only 15 female CEOs in Fortune 500’s list of America’s largest corporations. When 2012 came to a close, the number of female CEOs at the U.S.’ top companies did not improve much, only reaching 17. Some celebrate this figure as record-breaking, others are worried that 17 out of 500 is hardly a statistic to rejoice over.
The U.S isn’t the only country keeping women on the sidelines, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Since the financial crisis hit, not only are women not climbing up the corporate ladder, they aren’t entering the work force at all. A recent International Labour organisation (ILO) report on Global Employment Trends for Women is not optimistic about the future of women in the work place.
In 2007, before the financial crisis, the female unemployment rate was 5.8 per cent, compared to 5.3 per cent for men. By the time 2011 rolled around, men disproportionately took the lead: Women’s unemployment reached 6.4 per cent, well above the number for men, which was 5.7 per cent. The ILO projects that this gap will remain through 2013 and beyond, as this chart shows:
The question remains: What are governments doing to close this massive gap? A handful of nations have an idea. They believe that if companies aren’t promoting women to top tier positions on their own, the answer is to make them to do it.
France, Norway, and Spain have introduced compulsory quotas in the work place to force companies to place women in leadership roles. As early as 2003, a law was passed declaring that Norwegian companies set aside 40 per cent of boardroom positions for women by 2008.
While Belgium, Britain, Sweden, and Germany have considered putting similar laws into effect, the European Union’s executive body recently shot down a proposal to officially enact them. Marina Yannakoudakis, British member of the European Parliament is against the quotas, and told the ILO that “In the U.K. 100 women were appointed to FTSE-100 and FTSE-250 boards last year and FTSE-100 boards currently have 15.2 per cent female representation. I agree that there is still a long way to go but these women were selected because they were the best people for the job. Had they made it to the top by virtue of quotas it would have been nothing short of patronizing,” Yannakoudakis says.
The United States has not followed the example of its European counterparts; we haven’t even seen a national discussion of these quotas. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t influential American women hoping that this might one day become a reality for the U.S.
Tekla Szymanski, the managing editor of nywici.org argues that “quotas combat prejudice and pre-conceived opinions about someone’s ability to advance; they help fight discrimination and nepotism, shatter glass ceilings and old-boy-networks. Quotas should never supplant merit, skills and hard work, however.”
While compulsory quotas mandating that women be promoted to top tier positions may not be a reality for the United States, it’s likely Americans are bound to begin weighing the possibility sooner or later. In a 2011 feature, the Economist declared that “new rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission will require firms to reveal what, if anything, they are doing to increase diversity at the top table.”
That increased transparency may highlight the issue, revealing whether companies are even making an effort, and if intervention is needed. The numbers argue that the gap will take too long to close on its own.
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