Study Highlights the Current State of Women in Leadership


The Women’s College, The White House Project study finds women leaders still lacking

The Women’s College of the University of Denver and The White House Project, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that aims to advance women’s leadership, have released four sectors of a national study examining the current state of women’s positional leadership. The study, Benchmarking Women’s Leadership second edition, examined Politics and Government, Non-profit, Business, and Entrepreneurship and found that while women have made progress in many areas of the workforce, there is still a significant gap between women and men in positional leadership roles.

The study found that even when women outperform their male counterparts, they are still not recognized for senior leadership positions. Research lead, Tiffani Lennon, chair of the Law and Society Department at The Women’s College, said that since the last Benchmarking study in 2009, across many sectors, the number of women in leadership positions has essentially “remained flat – reflecting slight increases as well as decreases.”

She notes that at this slow rate of growth, it will be 2085 before women are at parity with men.

“Women make up half of the workforce, yet are still overwhelmingly underrepresented in positional leadership positions. Through this study, and by releasing the results, we hope to spark thoughtful discussion and deeper exploration of women in leadership roles. We believe this study will inspire people to contemplate what the world would look like if women shared more equally in the leadership of our society,” Lennon said.

The study also found that women in top leadership positions are significantly better represented among organizations and firms with merit and performance-based policies — that are enforced.

Here are some of the findings from the four sectors:

  • Government and Politics: Women constitute 26 percent of senior leadership roles on average across all governmental agencies in 2012, and 26 percent of federal judgeships.
  • Business: Women’s overall representation in the business labor force has climbed from 48 percent in 2008 to 49.1 percent in 2012 (Catalyst 2012b). Yet, on average, women comprise 11.76 percent of all leadership roles among the top ten companies in this sector. Net income growth for companies with women on the board has averaged 14 percent over the past six years, whereas companies with no female representation have seen a 10 percent growth.
  • Entrepreneurship: The entrepreneurship chapter explains that women receive just 11 percent of the capital investment and yet comprise 20 percent of the top entrepreneurs of 2011. Conversely, male entrepreneurs receive 89 percent of the capital investment and comprise 80 percent of the top entrepreneurs of 2011.
  • Non-profit: Among non-profits with budgets in excess of $25 million, women constitute only 21 percent of leadership roles even though they make up 75 percent of the workforce. Yet, in some areas such as social entrepreneurship women clearly dominate in terms of success and impact.

“By sharing this data, we hope to spark thoughtful discussion and collaboration between men and women in exploring these issues. We need more men in conversation with women addressing strategies to increase the percentage of women in positional leadership roles,” said Dr. Lynn M. Gangone, dean of The Women’s College.

“We are proud of our partnership with The Women’s College. A diversity of voices is key at all levels, including the very top, and Benchmarking is a comprehensive look at how far we’ve come across the country since 2009,” said Tiffany Dufu, president of The White House Project.

The final results of the second edition of Benchmarking Women’s Leadership, originally released by The White House Project in 2009, will be fully released in March 2013.