Fortune magazine’s most recent list of the Top 500 public and private US companies is noteworthy, but not just for Walmart’s $485.9 billion in revenues or Amazon’s 297.8 percent increase in profits. The number that struck me most is this one: 32.
Thirty-two is the number of Fortune 500 companies now run by female CEOs, a 50 percent increase over the prior year when only 21 women held the top corporate jobs. Obviously, the good news here is that efforts to diversify the C-Suite are slowly paying off as there are now more female chiefs than at any other time since Fortune began compiling the rankings in 1955. But here’s the bad news: If women now lead 32, or 6.4 percent, of the Fortune 500 companies, it also means nearly 94 percent have male CEOs at the helm.
Research has shown diversity at all levels of an organization, including the boardroom, is a key driver of business performance. Companies should strive to better reflect the diversity of both their customers and their workforce because it is good for business. Return on equity (ROE) is one of the most important metrics for evaluating business management, and a Catalyst study found Fortune 500 companies with more women board directors outperform the ROE of those with the least women board members by 53 percent.
Nevertheless, ongoing efforts to seat more women executives on top US corporate boards still suffered a setback in 2016.
The executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles’ most recent annual “Board Monitor” report found women’s share of appointments to newly created or vacated board seats actually declined 2 percent last year at Fortune 500 companies, even though there were 421 vacancies that needed to be filled. This marked a reversal of a seven-year trend in which women had been making slow but steady gains in new board appointments.
Clearly, we have a long way to go. And the only way to accelerate the movement of talented female executives to CEO positions and seats on corporate boards of directors is to take action.
This is why on Sept. 15, NJBIA is hosting its third annual Women Business Leaders Forum, “Unlocking the C-Suite,” in which both women and men will gather to network, exchange ideas, and strategize on ways to better empower women to make greater headway in corporate leadership. The goal is to build the next generation of women CEOs and a more diverse leadership pipeline to the board table.
More than 200 business leaders from a wide range of industries and companies will be joining us for this special NJBIA event. Executive leadership coaches, a New York Times best-selling author and renowned motivational speakers will share career and life lessons that will inspire and empower attendees to achieve professional success. Breakout sessions will help attendees learn how to become more effective communicators and negotiators, as well as how to raise their professional profiles to find the advocates and allies needed to reach the C-Suite.
Not everyone is a born leader. Most of us have to learn to become one by developing confidence, finding role models and mentors, and learning the negotiation and communication skills required for effective leadership.
Whether you’re a woman who aspires to the C-Suite or someone who wants to help women advance in boardrooms and corporate leadership positions, it’s time to take action by joining us at the Women Business Leaders Forum on Sept. 15. Registration details are on our website, www.njbia.org. I hope to see you there!