12/20/2013 02:19 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

Parity in 2084?!

Imagine the world in 2084. By then, maybe we'll have flying cars, robotic personal assistants, and virtual animals. We may even have anti-aging technology so we can be forever young. Even more, according to the 16th annual Census from The Chicago Network, in 2084 women will finally see equal representation in the boardroom and executive suites.

All sectors of business are concerned about presenting increases to their stakeholders, yet I wonder why the snail's pace when it comes to appointing women in senior leadership roles? Not all the news is bad. Some of the key findings from The Chicago Network 2013 Census are even mildly hopeful:
  • Women held 16.9% of director positions and 91 women sit on Chicago corporate boards, which is a gain over the past four years.
  • The percentage of new board positions filled by women increased to 20% from 19.6% last year, a minuscule increase.
  • The number of female board member at the Top 50 companies is at the highest level since the Census started in 1998.

I'm proud that some companies in Chicago get it. They understand the importance of taking advantage of the talent pool within their companies. Perhaps, they also recognize that having women in leadership demonstrates to the public that they are a company that believes in diversity and inclusion. Nationally, the numbers are a little different. A 2013 report found that women made up only 4.2 percent of CEOs in the Fortune 500 and 4.5 percent in the Fortune 1000.

Improving gender equality is a win/win when it comes to the business sector. When companies have women on their board, they have more women in senior leadership. When there are more women in senior leadership, companies have better profits. A recent study showed that a 10% increase in female board membership is associated with a 21% increase in female executives in companies. Another study reports that companies with the most number of women in their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest number.

I am often asked by women in the nonprofit sector about what advice I would give them as they embark on their pathway to leadership. When I respond, I often call upon important lessons I learned during my own tenure working in the corporate sector:
  • Build your support structure - Choose a group of advisers from among the people you know. Make it a trusted group who will listen, tell you the truth and offer practical helpful solutions.
  • Find a coach - Businesses have executive coaches and so should women who aspire to move into senior leadership.
  • Follow your passion, but learn how to manage - Take comprehensive classes or workshops to help you gain skills for the work you do.
  • Be bold-speak up, step out - When you have an idea that you are enthusiastic about, don't be afraid to share it and stick with it.
  • Build your personal brand - You are your brand. Create an authentic self that is multidimensional.

If women continue to support other women, we won't have to wait until 2084 to see gender equality in the boardroom and in the C-suite. Let's challenge ourselves and others to make major strides in 2014.