Women make up half of the workforce, but they are underrepresented in the top executive ranks of our nation’s businesses. While more and more women are filling top jobs, there remains a gender gap.
Though a record number of women now head Fortune 500 companies, they still represent only 3 percent of CEOs at our nation’s largest businesses. The numbers don’t get much better when you look at mid-cap companies — those with $1 billion to $7 billion in market capitalization.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently partnered with Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business on a study that found that, on average, barely 6 percent of executive positions at the midsize business level are held by women. In a number of key industries, the representation of women at the executive level is 2 percent or lower.
There is some good news. The study showed that executive compensation for women at the mid-cap level is keeping pace with that of their male peers and in some cases even surpassing it. Several industries, including media, pharmaceutical and retail, have much higher rates of women in executive positions.
But, clearly, there is room for improvement. We can and must do more to leverage the skills, ideas and innovations that women leaders bring to the table.
The Chamber of Commerce established the Center for Women in Business to create more opportunities for women to advance in the business world and to find professional fulfillment. The goal of the CWB is to see more women serving on corporate boards and in executive leadership roles in businesses of all sizes.
To help make that happen, the center emphasizes education and fosters mentorship. Through the CWB, the Chamber of Commerce is building a growing organization of women leaders and entrepreneurs to encourage peer-to-peer networking and spur professional growth.
It would be a big mistake for us not to tackle this challenge. Women are propelled by the spirit of entrepreneurship that will keep our 21st century workforce competitive. They are a driving force in our economic recovery — both through entrepreneurialism and executive leadership. Women-owned businesses already contribute $3 trillion annually to our economy and support 23 million American jobs. Let’s unleash the talent and energy of more American women, help grow their contributions to business and put them to work in our economy.
In our free enterprise system, talent should be recognized regardless of gender, and opportunity should know no bounds.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.