Over the last decade, the number of women-owned businesses grew at nearly twice the rate of all U.S. firms. Despite this good news, the statistics about women as business leaders are disheartening. Only 2.6% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. Only 16% of the House and Senate members are women. (Even worse, seven of the 17 women in the Senate were appointed to succeed their deceased husbands. ) And while 3 of the 9 managers reporting to me are women, that ratio is still smaller than the overall employee population.
Why the scarcity of women leaders?
It’s certainly not due to ability. A decade ago, Business Week reported that “female managers outshine their male counterparts in almost every measure,” from producing high-quality work to goal-setting to mentoring employees. Similarly Catalyst research group found that Fortune 500 with the most women in senior management had a third higher return on equities. And Northwestern University examined 45 studies on leaders in business, academics and other areas and determined that, on average, women in management positions are better leaders than men in equivalent positions.
Women’s biggest strengths can also become their biggest weaknesses, says Vivian Eyre, a New York management consultant. By working so hard to get great results, they often take away time from building critical business alliances. “Given the opportunity to stay in their offices and make sure their report is perfect or going out of their office and talking to Joe about his business, women are more likely to do their own work,” says Eyre.
What’s more, she adds, women still suffer from a lack of mentoring and being kept outside informal networks of communication. Many women admit that because they spend so much time focusing on getting results, they don’t think enough about strategy and vision–qualities that Harvard’s Kanter says are still the most important in a top executive.
Spend more time networking and manage by walking around are good advice to both men and women.
A recent Time Magazine article titled ‘Women Will Rule Business’ contains this optimistic prediction:
In fact, a decade from now, companies will understand that hiring lots of women, and letting them work the way they want, will help them Make More Money.
Letting the best qualified person focus on improving corporate performance sounds like a good recipe for success.