Gender Gap

Women Won't Achieve Equal Representation in Business Unless Men Help Change the Status Quo

Male CEOs and board directors need to take an active role in promoting a more diverse selection of leaders.
Women Won't Achieve Equal Representation in Business Unless Men Help Change the Status Quo
Image credit: Cecilie_Arcurs | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Founder and CEO, The Athena Alliance
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

“If everyone has the power, no one does.” This saying rings true in boardrooms and leadership positions across America, where 87 percent of executive roles and 95 percent of CEO positions are held by men. While these men may be qualified and equipped to run boardrooms and companies, they are overrepresented in positions of power in relation to customer demographics. Unfortunately, human tendency is to choose partners who look and think the same as we do. This means the overwhelming majority of C-suite and boardroom seats will remain male -- unless individuals in power embrace their ability to make change, rather than waiting for one of their peers to lead the charge.

I rarely meet a man, or hear of a man, who wouldn’t say he welcomes women to share an equal level of power in leadership, and most men will espouse the value women bring to the table. Yet, 100 years after women received the right to vote in this country, men still have a super majority of the vote in business. The only way to remedy this and continue business growth is for male CEOs and board directors to take an active role in promoting a more diverse selection of leaders. 

Related: Google Says It Would Cost Too Much to Gather Wage Gap Data

Almost 50 percent of all entry level roles across corporate America are held by women, but we fall off at every rung higher on the ladder. By the time we reach the C-suite, only 17 percent of roles are held by women. The reasons are complicated (pinkwashing, unconscious deflection, a general inability to recognize the full potential of their power), but men have the lion’s share of control over changing this -- if they choose to accept it. 

The most important step toward gender parity is for the majority (men) to not just really want it, but to actively advocate and work toward it. As the major force of power in our business world, they are the only group who can make a significant and immediate impact. In business, the most compelling reason to do something is because it makes business sense, and there is a wealth of proof that diversity does just that. CEOs must educate themselves and their teams on the business value of diversity and their power to achieve it. When that happens, the rest will follow. But until that happens, it will be difficult to move forward. 

Related: New Data Illuminates VC Bias Against Women

CEOs must avoid being bystanders. Too often, CEOs believe they are addressing diversity needs by creating new programs and affinity groups, but without their active engagement, progress is painfully slow. It’s hard to accelerate the pace of change, and often the best motivator is the CEO’s insistence. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is a great example, for his insistence on equal pay and that all important meetings include at least 30 percent women attendees. He knows his business will be better if he accelerates diversity to mimic society and his customer base at all levels of the organization, and he’s willing to use his power to make it happen. 

I talk to a lot of CEOs who are increasingly realizing that if they invest in broader, deeper executive searches, they can find what they are looking for in a woman. More progressive companies are even removing names, photos and any gender or race-related elements from resumes to neutralize potential unconscious bias early in the process. In addition, some are changing the interview process in meaningful ways, like only sharing feedback individually with a central point of contact so as not to bias one another’s input. 

Related: To Increase Gender Diversity, We Need to Go Back to School

Beyond these kinds of efforts, CEOs need to broaden their networks. If a CEO knows one amazing executive woman, he has access to at least six others. We all run in like peer groups. This is true for top executive women, as it is for top executive men. Women associate with women. However, we are more than ready to break that mold and join the networks of executive men. We just need to be invited in. Network with us, and ask us to help you network with other amazing women. We will help you. In fact, if you know The Athena Alliance, you know 500 amazing executive women across a wide range of industries and C-level functions. 

To accelerate the pace of change toward gender parity at all ranks of leadership, CEOs must understand the full capacity of their transformative power and believe in the value diversity brings to their bottom lines. Then they must insist on it. CEOs should not accept a slate of candidates that is not representative of women, and they should do themselves a favor by expanding their own networks. Implementing these changes is relatively simple. If you are a CEO who finds this hard to believe, I challenge you to test this by tapping my network. Feel free to reach out to me here: coco@athenaalliance.org

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