Throughout history, there have been various gaps: racial, gender, income, education, skills gaps, etc. Society today is not any different. Even though we have greater technological capabilities now than ever before, we have a shortage of people with skills. For example, there are not enough experts in the STEM fields, effective communication, critical thinking and advanced leadership. The skills we learn in school and the experiences we acquire are not always aligned to what employers are looking for.
The education gap in gender has undergone massive shifts recently. Today, 60 percent of bachelor degrees in the U.S. and Europe are obtained by women. Women account for nearly half of all JD and MD degrees conferred in the U.S. Women of all races are becoming the most skilled workers in the job market, yet many companies are remiss in developing this high-potential talent pool as their next generation of leaders.
There is a pay gap in the overall earnings ratio across all occupations, with women earning an average of 79 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same position. Per the U.S. Labor Department, the top three most common occupations for women in 2014 were secretaries or administrative assistants, elementary or middle school teachers and registered nurses. Even within these three jobs, women earn less. Female secretaries and administrative assistants earn 85 percent of men’s salary, with female elementary and middle school teachers earning 87 percent and female registered nurses earning 90 percent. In fact, none of the top 25 most common occupations have women earning more than men.
A popularly discussed and studied gap is the leadership gender gap. Women occupy 52 percent of all management and professional occupations, yet at Fortune 500 companies, they hold only 19 percent of board seats, 15 percent of executive officer positions and 5.8 percent of CEO positions. There is a significant leadership racial gap: the number of Caucasians in leadership positions compared to other races and ethnicities. Women of color hold only 3 percent of board seats.
More than any other statistic, the number of Fortune 500 female CEOs has become a barometer for measuring the amount of progress toward gender parity. This number has fluctuated from 3 percent to about 6 percent in the last several years, with an average of 4.5 percent. The 5.8 percentage equals 29 female CEOs, with 471 male CEOs running the remaining 500 companies.
The leadership gap has obvious implications for all of us at work. It represents how we develop our talent, work culture and decision-making, how we engage our employees, connect with our customers, plan and value diversity and inclusion.
There are ways to close this gap. First, CEOs need to make gender balance a strategic lever to achieving business goals. Put gender balance on the agenda as a top goal. Second, implement key initiatives that support gender equality. These include increased and more inclusive networking opportunities, skill-building, career development programs (mentoring) and leadership development programs (sponsorships). Third, set and measure targets. Establish concrete targets regarding gender parity, and then measure the progress by using clear metrics to count the number of women at all levels and areas of your business. Who is promoted most often? Who is leaving the company and when? What types of roles do men and women hold? Create graphs to help paint a picture.
Globalization is heating up the competition for innovative and talented workers with the skills needed for tomorrow’s workplace. Let’s hope that more companies will invest the time and resources needed to help close these significant gaps.