As the Rhode Island economy plods along its slow recovery, our state's businesses continue to seek out any kind of competitive advantages to get ahead. One such advantage that has been widely documented and reported is the power of women's leadership. Some companies are making serious investments in this area, while others have yet to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Research indicates companies led by women or with a higher representation of women board directors experience higher financial performance. The correlations are found across industries ‒ from consumer discretionary to information technology. Here in Rhode Island, women currently make up 48% of the workforce, and many women can be found in entry- and mid-level management positions. But when we look at the top levels of management, executive officers hover at somewhere just above 10% and board seats are filled by a slim 16%. A clear indication that we can and should be doing better.
Vision 2020 Rhode Island's upcoming report, Women, Leadership and Wages, reviews the findings of a survey conducted with 22 of the state's largest not-for and for-profit businesses. The survey is focused on initiatives and best practices that advance women, such as commitment to women’s leadership, advancement of women into senior leadership, wage equity and women on boards. The report also examines obstacles and barriers to advancing women into leadership.
The findings at times fall below where we would hope Rhode Island businesses could be: for example, only 23% of for-profits and 1% of not-for-profits surveyed have a clearly defined strategy and philosophy for the development of women into leadership roles. However, some best practices are being utilized to advance women, such as requiring a diverse slate of candidates for executive searches and conducting wage equity audits that look for inequities in compensation between men and women serving in the same position. This report can and should be used by for-profit and not-for-profit leadership teams, human resource departments and board of directors to spearhead meaningful conversations for improving the advancement of women in their organizations' leadership team. The real benefits of paying attention to these measures ‒ short and long-term, financial and workforce ‒ can offer an alternative for contributing to companies' competitive positions and thus Rhode Island's economic growth.
On behalf of Vision 2020 RI's Corporate Sub-committee, we invite members of the business sector and other interested parties to attend and hear more about the report's findings at Leading Women's breakfast, The State of Women's Success, being held on September 11th at 8:00 at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. We appreciate the willingness of companies who participated in the survey, and we urge all members of the business community to participate in ongoing research to share successes and challenges in advancing women's leadership as we work together to advance Rhode Island's economy.
Vision 2020 was developed by the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine to make equality a national priority through shared leadership among women and men. The organization’s goal is to advance women’s equality before the landmark 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
Renee Aloisio is Director of Internal Operations at LGC&D and Kate Kennedy is the Executive Director of Rhode Island Business Group on Health.
The report, Women, Leadership and Wages will be available online at www.leadingwomen.biz and at www.wfri.org on September 11. Hard copies will be distributed at the event.
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls and Make the Most of Mentoring. Follow her on Twitter | LittlePinkBook | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedInGroup | LinkedIn