The gender pay gap is so pervasive that it is generally assumed as part of business culture; yet the very concept of unequal pay for women and minorities seems to follow the same line of thinking used to create Jim Crow laws over 150 years ago.
The modern world needs leaders who will break the mould of injustice in business culture; these leaders must come from the uppermost tiers of business, as it is their actions that can have the greatest impact.
Unfortunately, it is these top companies that are the worst purveyors of gender inequality in the workplace—particularly at the highest company level, executive boards.
Women made up 46.8 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2013 and 51.4 percent of management, professional and related positions; however, women made up less than 25 percent of board members of Standard & Poor’s 100 companies and Silicon Valley 150 companies, according to a 2014 study conducted by Fenwick & West LLP.
Furthermore, 38 percent of the Silicon Valley 150 companies did not have any women on their board of directors—this comes at a time when the number of new directors has fallen by 27 percent across the majority of top companies since 2005.
With fewer board positions available and an apparent bias toward hiring men in the workplace, it is little surprise that American companies are adding women to executive positions slower than other advanced countries.
This isn’t a case where there is a lack of qualified women, since American women have been earning a greater number of college degrees than men since the 90s, and in 2006 the number of women who earned a doctorate degree surpassed the number earned by men.
With a cornucopia of qualified women available, it raises the question: if a woman is just as qualified as a man to serve on a board, why doesn’t it happen as often?
Such appalling underrepresentation for women may have something to do with an increasingly older board member population.
When examining the member composition of board members of the Standard & Poor’s 500 in 2013, 44 percent of companies had an average board member age of 64—up from 14 percent from a decade ago—and only 14 percent of boards today have an average age less than 59 years old as compared to 39 percent in 2004.
These older board members grew up in a time where women and minorities were often seen as little more than obstacles in the way of the white man’s dominion, and some of these board members may have carried these sentiments throughout their lives.
For modern generations, this way of thinking is as ancient a way of thought as Jim Crow laws. It is time for the men who run these companies to live in the now, instead of the “not now.”
It is time to break up the boy’s club that makes up the one percent and to allow women, as equals, to have a meaningful impact on corporate decisions, thereby helping to enrich the perspectives of their male peers, and doing away with other anachronistic principles.
To those who stand on the wrong side of history: either help, or get out of the way.