The late Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the US until her death on September 18, 2020, left us with this challenge. Decisions are made every day by virtually every single human being around the world. Some decisions are small and personal (“Should I wear my blue or my black jacket today?”). Some have impact on many people (“Given the impact of COVID-19, how should our state implement new restrictions to balance human and economic health?”). Still others have the potential for immense impact at the global level (“What criteria should be used to distribute the various vaccines when they become available?”).
When I think about RBG’s challenge, my mind goes to decisions being made at policy levels – whether they be organizational, community, or legislative types of policies. This means women need to be at the upper levels of companies, communities, and institutions – both in senior staff leadership roles and as board directors. So how are we doing against her challenge?
We are making progress, but still have work to do. The 2020 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey&Co and LeanIn shows that (before COVID-19 struck) the number of women in senior management roles had increased from 23 to 28 percent from 2015, and from 17 to 21 percent in the C-suite. While the overall percentage of women was slowly increasing in these two levels, women – and particularly women of color – remained significantly underrepresented compared to men. This news is compounded with the fact that women are leaving the workforce in higher numbers than men are, due to the complexities caused by COVID-19. This exodus could erase the last 6 years’ worth of progress in one short year.
At the very highest levels – board roles – the Women’s Business Collaborative and Equilar have launched their first ever Women Public Boards Report. It shows that public companies appointed the highest percentage of women to their boards ever – 40.2% of board appointments were women. These 123 women included 44 who identified as women of color – 33 of whom identified as African American. In terms of overall ratios, we again have room for improvement – women represent less than 25% of board members on public organizations.
I am honored to serve on the Leaders Council for the Women’s Business Collaborative, an organization that fights for equal pay, position, and power for all business women by sponsoring collaborations of partner organizations who are focused on key initiatives including Women in the Boardroom, Women in the C-Suite, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It is through this type of coordinated, targeted effort that we will make steady progress toward parity. It is particularly important that parity be measured not only through gender measures, but through intersectional measures that include race as well as other forms of diversity.
I formed Leap & Inspire Global, LLC to help organizations, executive teams, and individuals do the hard work required to create cultures of equity and inclusion that result in sustainable diversity. When we are successful, not only do we have women but also other underrepresented groups in decision-making roles. Policy decisions should be informed by people who bring the diversity of experience that reflect the population to whom those policies are applied. It is only when the demographics of the decision-makers approximates the diversity of their constituents that we will truly fulfill RBG’s challenge. How about you – are you ready to do the hard work?