What If ‘Fig-Leaf Feminism’ Is Holding Back C-Suite Parity


When Citigroup Inc.’s Jane Fraser withdrew from the forum of global financial leaders in Hong Kong, she left the marquee event virtually without a female speaker. Not only that, but it also highlights the fact that there are still very few companies run by women.

Fraser was supposed to be one of just three female panelists at the Global Financial Leaders Investment Summit to mark Hong Kong’s reopening after nearly three years of a strict Covid quarantine and heightened political scrutiny from Beijing. Amundi SA CEO Valerie Baudson was another, but she also dropped out.

That’s why it’s time to move the discussion beyond the board and into the C-suite. It is no longer enough for companies to praise the addition of women to their boards. They should prioritize acquiring and retaining the line of management positions with profit and loss responsibility that traditionally lead to the CEO. And investors need to train their lenses on how companies achieve that and push for policies that increase the gender balance in senior executives.

In the United States, Europe, Australia, and soon Hong Kong, despite gender diversity on boards, women are still grossly underrepresented when it comes to top positions. As it increases, it may at some point cease to be seen as a meaningful measure of progress.

Only 37 (7.4%) of the 503 companies in the S&P 500 are led by women. Australia has just 16 female CEOs in her S&P/ASX 200 index, just 8%. At the end of November, only 6% of the 1,507 companies in the MSCI World Index had female leaders globally, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In Australia, where women currently hold well over 30% of board seats, it is estimated that it will take 100 years for women to hold at least 40% of all CEO positions in 200 large companies. According to the 2022 Census of Female Chief Executives in Senior Management, more companies in the top 300 have no women on their leadership team this year than last year, at 28 in the last 12 months. CEO was appointed, but only four were women.

Companies struggle to retain the small number of female leaders in the United States. According to her 2022 Women in the Workplace report by McKinsey & Co. and her LeanIn.Org, the turnover rate for female leaders is at an all-time high in a situation dubbed “The Great Breakup.” As such, they are too few to be promoted to senior management. Only 87 women for every 100 men are promoted from entry-level roles to managerial positions.

It would be unwise to miss the perspective and contribution of 50% of the population. Not for business, not for gender equality, not for corporate governance. It also sends a dire message to future generations of aspiring female leaders, and has done nothing to close the gender pay gap, which averages just over 10% for her across OECD countries. Hmm.

Boards can ensure that not only are women diverse, but that they wield the same influence as men and do not represent mere token additions. This is a trend dubbed “ficus leaf feminism” by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Alberta. Women directors must be allowed to have representation, use their skills and expertise, and be heard. That way, they can have a greater say and influence on how companies achieve gender balance at all levels of management. Boards also need to cast a wider range for potential female appointees. Women hold more seats, but a study by researchers found it didn’t match the actual increase in the number of women, suggesting that the same name sits on multiple boards. I’m here.

We need to start tracking women in COO, CFO, and CIO/CTO positions (the roles in the line leading up to the CEO) more closely to monitor how companies are building a solid pipeline of female executive talent. I have. A$68 billion ($46 billion) Australian pension fund, HESTA, spearheads initiatives to commit companies to his 40:40 vision to achieve gender-balanced management teams by 2030 standing. Change calls on men in positions of power to enact gender equality in leadership alongside women.

And I hate to say this, but do women have to be hungry to reach the top? has been shown to be flawed, but perhaps more ambitions won’t stray.

This is essential as women leaders still face headwinds. Women leaders are more likely to have their judgments questioned and may often do more work that goes unrecognized or appreciated. Their appointment to leadership roles has been considered risky for far too long.

Developing more female leaders may also make flexibility more acceptable. This is especially important after the pandemic has shown women to take on more childcare and household responsibilities. This is where companies need to change their mindset. We need to stop stigmatizing women for flexible work and welcome flexible men as heroes. Or, as Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of her platform Luminary Legacy LLC, her platform for women’s networking, recently said, “Women are promoted for performance, men are promoted for potential.” .”

We have a long way to go to deepen the shallow pool of female CEOs. So, in order for more (even more) companies to see the day led by Jane Frasers and Valerie, we must start scrutinizing the gender diversity of our executive ranks. Bordson. And when they can’t make the event, it stops making headlines.

Details from Bloomberg Opinion:

• Fewer female CEOs in industry: Brooke Sutherland

• Sandburg’s underrated ‘lean in’ legacy: Sarah Greene Carmichael

• Hong Kong’s Old Boys Club rents time: Matthew Brooker

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

More articles like this can be found at bloomberg.com/opinion.

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