Women Lag in Leadership Roles, CEO Earnings New National Report Shows

Posted By Marilyn Hammond - 11/10/2013

At the highest levels of the American workforce, less than 20 percent of the top leadership jobs are held by women, according to a new national study, which found that women, on average, earn less than men in comparable jobs while, by some measures, outperforming them.

"The leadership landscape is so lopsided," said Lynn Gangone, dean of Colorado Women's College at the University of Denver, which conducted the study, "Benchmarking Women's Leadership in the United States."

"Part of the message in this report is to say, 'What can we do together, men and women, to change?' Because everything out there, even internationally, says that unless we bring diverse voices to the table, we are not going to solve the complex problems of the 21st century."

Another national report, released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in October, found that women remain disadvantaged in terms of pay and promotion: In 2012, for example, women, on average, made 81 percent of the average earnings of male workers.

The Colorado Women's College study is the first to look at women in leadership roles across 14 sectors, from medicine and technology to law and politics. It builds upon the 2009 report by The White House Project, the nonpartisan organization focused on advancing women's leadership. The project ended in 2012.

Researchers gathered the latest data from each sector, focusing on the top echelon of each industry, counting the number of women in the top 10 organizations, and calculating leadership performance by the frequency with which women were recognized by industry distinctions, such as national awards.

In 2012, 47.3 percent of law school graduates were women, but only 15 percent of equity partners and 5 percent of managing partners were women. Women's salaries in private law firms have decreased in recent years. For example, in 2011, female lawyers earned 87 percent of male salaries, down from 93.5 percent in 2010.

In technology, the average CEO salary for women in the top 10 companies is 25 percent less than the average male salary, and in the nonprofit sector, female CEOs, on average, earn 80 percent of what male CEOs make.

In academia, women outperformed men 56 percent to 44 percent in national research awards and grants, but the ratio of women's earnings compared with men has remained unchanged since the 1980s. In 1980, women faculty earned 81.6 percent of the salary of men, compared with 82.4 percent in 2010.

In politics and government, women comprise 22.8 percent of all leadership roles. Only 9 percent of mayors in the 100 largest cities are women, and as of January, there were five female governors.

"When will we have a woman governor, or a woman mayor of Denver?" wondered Roxane White, chief of staff to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

White, who earned master's degrees in social work and divinity, wasn't focused on politics when she started her career. But her success as CEO of Urban Peak, the nonprofit that helps homeless youths, caught the attention of then-Denver Mayor Hickenlooper, who hired her as manager of the Denver Department of Human Services, then as his chief of staff.

"I never aspired to be in government, and certainly not in this job," White said. "He said, 'Roxane, you can sit where you are and complain about what's happening with government for the next 20 years, or you can step up and see if it can really be changed.' "

Mentorship by men is just as important as that by women, she said.

"Having a man already in a position who mentors and helps you get to the next position is a key piece," she said. "How are our men doing in mentoring the next generation of women leaders?"

In late October, at the Women's Foundation of Colorado luncheon, Hickenlooper made the case for promoting more women to executive suites, referring to several studies that have linked gender diversity in senior posts with financial success, including a study by international management consultant McKinsey and Co. that showed that European firms with the highest proportion of women in power saw their stock value climb by 64 percent over two years, compared with an average of 47 percent over the same time period.

Still, according to the Colorado Women's College study, about 80 percent of top leaders in the American workforce are men. At issue is how characteristics of a leader are perceived according to gender, said Gangone.

"We still don't see 'leader' and think women," she said.

Some companies are exceptions. In Colorado, Jacqueline Hinman has been named CEO at the engineering firm CH2M Hill — but only 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, according to Catalyst, a research firm studying women and business.

At PricewaterhouseCooper's Denver office, which has seen double-digit revenue growth over the past two years, four of five new lead partners are women, all promoted internally.

"We are really focused on diversity in leadership, and the ability to use that to challenge each other to think through both opportunities and issues to formulate a strategy," said managing partner Katrina Salem. "It's easy to get a roomful of people to agree with you, but in leadership, it's better and more challenging to get a group of people who are comfortable disagreeing with you."

Colleen O'Connor, The Denver Post
November 10, 2013