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Creating an Even Playing Field for Professional Women in Philadelphia

November 22, 2023 Category: FeatureFeaturedOp-ed

Disclosures

This guest post was written by Meghan Pierce, President & CEO, The Forum of Executive Women

Updates

updated 11/29/2023 at 6:35am typo in boilerplate - as requested by author

Philadelphia is about to have our first woman mayor. This is an important win for women and other minority communities who are now being represented at the highest level of our city government. But make no mistake, this does not mean that the fight towards equal representation of women in leadership in Philadelphia is over. Historically, and to this day, Philadelphia’s workforce has been run by men.

How do we know this? For the past 22 years, the Forum of Executive Women has tracked the data of corporate leadership at the largest companies in the Greater Philadelphia region in our annual Women in Leadership Report.

While we acknowledge that progress for women has been made, including the percentage of women serving on boards increasing from around 10% to 27% since our first report in 2001, unfortunately progress overall has been slow and incremental.

Disappointingly, our key metrics across this last year (2021-2022) saw minimal or no gains. Women serving as board directors increased by only 2%, from 25% to 27%. Women serving in executive roles also only increased by 2%, from 19% to 21%. Finally, women represent only 15% of the region’s top earners, same as the previous year.

Why does this matter? For one thing, it reflects a lack of equity in opportunity. Women are just as qualified to take on key executive and board positions as men. More women than men earn college degrees, and increasingly, advanced degrees. Notably, they earn almost half of all advanced business degrees. And yet, they still represent only a minority of the business industry’s leadership positions.
It’s important to also acknowledge that our report highlights the few, often white, women who rise to the executive or board level or become top earners.

So, what can be done to improve this issue and close these gaps? Accountability.

To build true equity in representation, it’s critical to track and evaluate real data on other diversity metrics, including race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Our studies found that 18% of the region’s top companies do not disclose any information about the diversity of their staff and leadership.  Even more striking, only 26% of companies have disclosed information on the LGBTQ+ diversity of their board and the majority (58%) of companies do not disclose any metrics as it relates to LGBTQ+ diversity.

From our Partners

If we want to make equal representation across board rooms the norm, then we need to act boldly and call out those holding our progress back. Companies should also strive to establish mentorship programs to connect current and emerging diverse leaders. From a young age, women should be told that they belong in the board room and in City Hall.

Finally, it’s necessary to acknowledge the unconscious bias against women, especially women of color. Cherelle Parker has yet to officially assume office, yet she is already subject to more intense scrutiny due to her gender and race. Robust education and training to identify and reduce unconscious bias needs to be a priority at every organization, from the top down. If senior executives, much like voters, who are making these hiring decisions are not recognizing and committed to mitigating their unconscious bias, our city will continue to see the impact of the gap in women in leadership.

Diversity in leadership is not only the right thing to do, but it’s good for businesses and our regional economy. Numerous studies have demonstrated that companies with more women in senior positions are more profitable, socially conscious, and produce higher-quality customer experiences. The Philadelphia area is home to over 100 large public companies and 19 business schools – our city should, and needs to be, a place where women professionals thrive.

My main takeaway from The Forum’s Women in Leadership Report, and the 2023 Mayoral Race, is that there is real work to be done.

The Forum calls on the leaders of Philadelphia’s top 100 companies, and the entire business community, to take a hard look at the policies and cultures of their organizations, and even households, that stall women’s progress. Change doesn’t happen without action. These numbers should continue to be pushed forward, progress should be embraced, and how we advocate for change should evolve. It’s time to build a more representative Philadelphia.

To read the 2023 Women in Leadership Report, visit: foew.com/page/WomeninLeadershipReport

Meghan Pierce is the President and CEO of The Forum of Executive Women, which is the Greater Philadelphia Region’s premier women’s organization, actively working to bring together, and leverage the influence of, professional women to expand the impact and power of women in the workplace and beyond. Forum membership has grown over four decades to comprise more than 600 of the most influential women leaders throughout the region. Visit www.foew.com for more information. 

 

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