Gender equity at the top of U.S. companies is falling, partly because female executives aren’t mentoring the next generation of female leaders, according to researchers at the Smith School and Columbia Business School.
Women comprise 13 percent of C-level professionals in chief officer roles for human resources, finance, accounting and others. The figure peaked at 15 percent about four years ago and is even lower in firms with a female CEO, says Cristian Dezso, assistant professor in Smith’s Department of Logistics, Business and Public Policy.
Unwitting or intentional, many companies seem content to have token representation of female leadership, Dezso concludes from data covering S&P 1,500 top management from 1993–2011.
For some firms, having just one female executive signals to stakeholders and externally that the company is gender-equity progressive. And these lone women at the top “seem unwilling to help groom up-and-coming female execs,” he says. "These dynamics compel top female managers to conform to, and reinforce, an 'old boys' club' culture.”
“Truly progressive corporate leaders should guard against lack of solidarity (among women) and norm satisfaction," says Dezso. Top executives can then better enable women holding power to "flourish as dynamic agents of change, making their companies more flexible, open and hospitable to gender equity at the top."