By Janecia Britt
America hit a milestone in 2016: The most female CEOs ever. According to CNN Money, there are now 27 women at the helm of America’s largest publicly traded companies. It’s a new record for women in business, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. It’s also 22% more than last year, but women still have a long way to go.
Females make up half the national workforce, earn more college and graduate degrees than men, and by some estimates represent the largest single economic force in the world. But we still need to look at the big picture. It’s not all coming up roses. If females will be the majority in the workforce, we could argue that they should also be the majority among leadership ranks. The reality? According to Catalyst, a research group that tracks executive women, Female CEOs in the Fortune 500 represent a measly 4.8 percent. For underrepresented women such as minorities or those who are mentally or physically disabled, the numbers are either bleak or non-existent.
Women are more than just beauties with brains. But for the few women that are making it up the ladder, many glass cliffs have emerged. The glass cliff describes women in leadership roles being likelier than men to be put in positions during periods of crisis or downturn when the chance of failure is highest. As a result, rather than breaking stereotypes about women being poor leaders, they may end up reinforcing them.
The gender gap in science also persists, particularly in computer science and engineering. It’s not that women aren’t wanted. But many cultural forces continue to stand in the way—ranging from gender bias and sexual harassment in the workplace to the potentially career-stalling effects on women from having children.
It may be hard to not sit and wonder what can be done. How can we get more females at the head of the table?
It starts with women helping other women. If we want to see the numbers of female CEOs rise, investing in young girls is vital. But we can’t sit and wait for that investment to bear fruit – nor can we rely on education alone. We need to boost women’s leadership right now by putting a spotlight on those who are smashing through glass ceilings and dodging cliffs. We have to inspire the next wave of female entrepreneurs to get their ideas off the ground and back them with the funding, and technology support required to get started.
Support and encourage young women you know to attend programs that will prepare them for difficult sectors like film (Reel Grrls), technology, (Girls Who Code) science, engineering and math (The Smith Summer Science and Engineering Program) and even politics (Running Start’s Young Women’s Political Leadership Program). It’s also crucial that we support and recognize that women’s colleges continue to champion future STEM leaders via undergraduate programs. They produce graduating women knowledgeable in their field of study as well as in skills associated with a liberal arts education.
Furthermore, you can work in your own office to improve the conditions for women and break down the stigma associated with females in upper-level positions. If you are in a position of power, try to help diversify your team and mentor a young woman through a local program like Women for Florida State or Girls 2 Divas Mentoring Program Tallahassee. Women helping, encouraging, and uplifting other women to strive for success and break down barriers is beautiful. That’s the kind of beauty we need in the boardroom.