WSJ Women in Economy – It Starts with Data

I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to be a member of the WSJ Task force on Women in The Economy – we’ve been meeting the last two days.  There have been so many great ideas and speakers – certainly enough to provide blog fodder for a bit.

The conference opened with some interesting data from an extensive study conducted by McKinsey.  They examined the pipeline of women in the Fortune 500 from entry level professional to CEO.  Women comprise 53% of entry level professionals, 37% of early to middle management, 26% of VP and senior management, 14% of Executive Committee members and 3% of CEO’s.

Generally, women are entering the professional work force – they are just not making it through the funnel in great enough numbers.  In fact they leak out at every stage.  There are myriad reasons – women opting into support roles, exiting completely when perhaps they could stay if there were part time or more flexible work during childrearing times, lack of desire to be in the C-suite not to mention bias in the system.  Focused programs can help – there were a significant number of companies within the survey with better results keeping upwards of a 30% female participation in the C-suite.

Interestingly, the technology firms in the study had a quite different profile – their pipeline had a very different shape.  They had relatively fewer women in entry level (30%) but more consistent participation throughout.  Top of funnel was low but the funnel leaked less.  The message for us in technology is quite clear – encouraging women to study technology fields and to recruit women business students into the technology world.

There is improvement but the rate of change is slow.  For instance, at the current rate of improvement in the federal legislative branch we’ll get to parity in 500 years.  The percentage of women on the boards of F-500 companies is also relatively stable at a low number (after some improvement in the past).  I learned that one reason for this is that the average tenure of a F-500 board member is 14 years.  That certainly slows the rate of change.

Overall I found this data eye opening.  The US is behind the top 10 OECD countries on metrics of women participating in the economy and government and the improvement is simply not happening fast enough.  On the positive side it has been incredible to be here.  Being in a room full of successful women executives, professors and political leaders – all of whom have incredibly busy calendars – yet took time to focus on this issue makes me optimistic about the future despite the numbers showing slow progress.  That attention and focus and commitment to give back to others inspired me to think about what more can I do, both through my role at SugarSync as well as in the community at large.