The past year has seen women make strides toward gender parity in many sectors, including business, politics, and Hollywood, to name just a few. But although we are making progress in many areas, the biggest gender gaps are still at the top, especially in the board and C-suite levels.
Women hold just under 20% of board seats on Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., and it’s not because women aren’t great board members. A study by the Peterson Institute shows that when a company’s board is made up of at least 30% women, it’s 15% more profitable than companies with no women in corporate leadership.
That women need to make up 30% of the pie before we see the profitability increase also hints at another crucial point: that hiring one token woman to “check the diversity box” is not the solution. When only one woman serves on a board, she is often seen as an outlier, which makes it more difficult for her to be heard. When more women serve together, they can support each other’s ideas, give other women opportunities to share their experience, and be seen together as a group of colleagues who have all earned their place at the table.
Of course, men can—and should!—support women on boards by not speaking over them, asking for input (and listening to it), and asking women to chair key board committees. By taking these steps to be more inclusive and open to new ideas, boards will be stronger and their companies more profitable.
Cathrin Stickney has worked as a high-ranking healthcare executive, consultant, and adjunct professor, and has been a women’s advocate for more than 30 years. When she saw studies that found it would take more than 100 years (now 200 years) for women to reach parity in the executive suite and on boards, she immediately started down the path to create Parity.org, which asks CEOs to take the ParityPledgeTM to simply interview at least one woman for every open role VP and above. Since then, more than 300 companies have taken the ParityPledge. She wants to close the gender gap, now—not in 200 years.