3 Bold Predictions for Women in Corporate America This Year
Let’s face it, a lot happened in 2017. Politically, socially, environmentally. And women were the drivers behind much of that change. But regardless of how one feels about the events of 2017, it’s hard to deny the lasting impact they will have on us in the months and years ahead.
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This is particularly the case for women in corporate America. Looking back, the campaign theme chosen for International Women's Day 2017 -- #BeBoldforChange -- was prophetic. Women were indeed bold. But the best is yet to come.
While there's no crystal ball, here are three bold predictions, based on the events of 2017, for what may happen this year.
1. The groundswell of women running for public office will translate into more women raising their hands for leadership roles in the private sector.
The number of women running for public office is on the rise. Since November 2016, more than 15,000 women have contacted She Should Run, a nonpartisan organization that provides an approachable starting place and network for women leaders considering a future run for office.
The political implications of this trend are one thing, but what's more interesting is what it could mean for corporate America.
She Should Run was founded on the premise that women of all political leanings should have an equal opportunity to lead in elected office. The organization contends that when women run, they win at the same rates as men, but for whatever reason they are not encouraged to run or recruited at the same rate.
The same challenge exists in corporate America. While women make up 44 percent of the overall S&P 500 labor force, they represent only 25 percent of executive- and senior-level officials and managers in those companies.
The reasons for this gap are many. It is indeed the case that at many companies, women are simply not encouraged to lead. But women also bear responsibility for not raising their hands or saying yes when they are given an opportunity to lead.
Regardless of the reasons for the gender gap in leadership, if the ranks of female leaders in the public sector grows, we will also see more women step into leadership positions in the private sector.
2. Investors will become more powerful and influential voices on issues of social change, namely gender equality.
In 2017, a handful of financial institutions, mainly in Australia, devised a way to promote gender equality through the issuance of a relatively new form of debt called gender equality bonds. As detailed in a Wall Street Journal article last year, the proceeds from the sale of those bonds go to businesses that are majority-owned by women or have women in leadership positions.
The WSJ article cited three specific examples of the creation of these bonds: National Australia Bank sold five-year bonds that raised $400 million for companies cited as employers of choice by the country’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency; Australian insurer QBE issued $500 million of similar gender-equality bonds; and International Finance Corporation -- the World Bank’s private-investment arm -- raised $500 million through its social bond program for financing female-led businesses.
We are already seeing growth in responsible investing. As noted in RBC Global Asset Management’s 2017 Responsible Investing Survey, more investors worldwide are incorporating environmental, social and governance factors into their investment process.
The prediction is that we will see more investing products geared toward influencing change in corporations because investors -- women in particular -- will demand them.
Perhaps those investments will flow to companies in places like Iceland, which on International Women’s Day in 2017, presented a bill that would require public and private companies to prove they pay employees equally regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality. The new law should be in force by 2020.
3. The next generation of young women to enter the workforce will do so with more confidence and ability to stand up for what is right than any other generation in history.
As RBC’s CEO Dave McKay recently noted on LinkedIn, we as a society still have a long way to go to ensure that each one of us -- women and men -- has the right to feel respected and appreciated for who we are.
But we are making progress, and the events of this past year are a clear sign of that. In 2017, women spoke and the world listened. The good news is that the young women of today who will be the leaders of corporate America will know that they can be heard too.
(By Kristen Kimmell. Kimmell is chief of staff at RBC Wealth Management-U.S.)