THE BLOG
04/06/2016 03:55 pm ET Updated Apr 06, 2017

Where Are the Women? The 30 Percent Solution

My hope is that if you've been following my blog, I've made the business case that Integrated Leadership will separate tomorrow's successful organizations from those that will be left behind. The concept of integrated leadership--men and women working synergistically together on leadership teams and boards--is simple enough to explain but not always easy to implement. Yet when companies remember that gender-balanced leadership improves business results, they will hopefully be motivated to stay the course in striving to achieve this leadership model.

Therein lies the challenge, because after decades of striving for parity, organizations are still nowhere near balanced at the top levels of leadership. Newly released data for 2016 from Catalyst shows that women hold only 4 percent of chief executive positions at S&P 500 companies--that's 20 spots out of 500. Board representation for women has been stuck in the teens for years, with the latest figures showing that women hold only 19.2 percent of board seats. When we move down the pyramid to consider how many women in the S&P are executive or senior-level managers, the needle barely moves, with only a quarter (25.1 percent) of these positions held by females. It remains an understatement to call these numbers dismal.

It astounds me that even with so much transformation occurring in organizations over the past 10 years, we still have so few female executives and C-level leaders in Fortune 500 companies. While we want to spend more time on solutions than on continuing to discuss the problems, it's notable that the number of women in executive suites and on boards of U.S. companies is not much higher today than it was a decade ago. When I consider these statistics and women's underrepresentation in the senior leadership ranks, what really concerns me is the lack of balance in our leadership thinking, decision making, and problem solving.

When doing research on this topic for my recent book Make Room for Her, I spoke with Linda Tarr-Whelan about her thoughts on this topic. Linda is a speaker on women's leadership issues, author of Women Lead the Way, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the public policy organization Demos. She also previously served on the UN Commission on the Status of Women in the Clinton administration, and was White House deputy assistant focusing on women's concerns under President Jimmy Carter. In the latter role, she discussed her concept of the "30 percent solution."

Linda shared with me that real change starts to happen when women represent just 30 percent of the senior leadership team or board. Thirty percent is the tipping point where the organization will start to experience a positive shift--not only in performance, but also in market share that creates competitive advantage.

This relates closely to Integrated Leadership, because having a diversity of views and perspectives from both genders creates a better balance and improved output in problem solving, thinking, and decision making. That additional 30 percent of women's thinking and leadership style makes a big difference. We unfortunately are still far from reaching this tipping point. And as long as we don't reach it, it means that organizations are still failing to use their full leadership capacity.

Some may say that the old-school approach of having senior leadership teams mostly composed of men has worked. To those folks, I would ask: how successful would you be if you were only using a fraction of your full potential? My guess is, not very! That's because today's business environment demands a balanced leadership approach. There's no excuse to continue to have a gap between what leadership teams actually look like and how they should look.

So why aren't more women advancing to the senior leadership ranks in 2016? In my next post, I'll shed some light on both the problem and the solution.

Rebecca is an internationally acclaimed and sought-after keynote speaker, leadership expert and contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and the Huffington Post.

Interested in having Rebecca speak at your company, visit: www.rebeccashambaugh.com

To learn more about SHAMBAUGH's integrated leadership solutions, visit: www.shambaughleadership.com

Rebecca is author of the best-selling books It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor, Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton, and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results