International Women’s Day: Risk Management Issues to Watch

A 2013 piece on the role of women in risk management remains the most controversial article we’ve ever run in Risk Management magazine and the one that received the most comments and letters to the editor, hands down. Many of those reader comments were…let’s just say less than kind or receptive.

Today, International Women’s Day, offers the perfect opportunity to revisit that article, Woman at Work: Why Women Should Lead Risk Management, and some of our more recent coverage of pressing issues like the wage gap and gender parity at the board level.

The significance of this conversation is ever clearer, given not only the political climate and regulatory concerns, but also the simple data about the bottom line. Just last year, the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY found that almost a third of companies globally have no women in either board or C-suite positions, 60% have no female board members, 50% have no female top executives, and less than 5% have a female CEO. After analyzing 21,980 publicly traded companies from 91 countries and a wide range of industries, their report, Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Study, found that organizations with leadership that is at least 30% female could add up to 6 percentage points to its net margin.

“The impact of having more women in senior leadership on net margin, when a third of companies studied do not, begs the question of what would be the global economic impact if more women rose in the ranks?” said Stephen R. Howe Jr., EY’s U.S. chairman and Americas managing partner. “The research demonstrates that while increasing the number of women directors and CEOs is important, growing the percentage of female leaders in the C-suite would likely benefit the bottom line even more.”

While study after study comes to similar conclusions, a recent report from EY explored why businesses need gender diversity for the innovation to thrive. Five disconnects continue to hold businesses back from achieving gender diversity on their boards, the firm found:

  1. The reality disconnect: Business leaders assume the issue is nearly solved despite little progress within their own companies.
  2. The data disconnect: Companies don’t effectively measure how well women are progressing through the workforce and into senior leadership.
  3. The pipeline disconnect: Organizations aren’t creating pipelines for future female leaders.
  4. The perception and perspective disconnect: Men and women don’t see issues the same way.
  5. The progress disconnect: Different sectors agree on the value of diversity but are making uneven progress toward gender parity.

Check out some of our previous coverage of key issues regarding women in business and risk management specifically:
Equal Work, Unequal Pay: Risks of the Gender Wage Gap
The Wage Gap in the Boardroom
Is the Insurance Industry Improving for Women?
Boards Still Lagging on Gender Parity
Preparing for New Pay Equity Requirements

Boards Still Lagging on Gender Parity

Although women make up nearly half of the workforce in the United States, they represent only 16.9% of board members, according to Catalyst’s “Women on Boards.” Norway tops the list with 40.5%, followed by Sweden with 27% and Finland with 26.8%. Japan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, are at the bottom of the list with 1.1%, 0.3% and 0.1%, respectively.

Mary Jo White, who chairs the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission board addressed the issue of board parity global-banner-sealin her remarks to the Women’s Forum of New York on Nov. 19.

White said:

We all have indeed come a long way since 1974. Today, women receive more than half of all bachelors’, masters’ and doctorate degrees, and more than a third of MBAs. Women are approximately half of the total workforce and half of all managers. But there remain areas stubbornly resistant to the progress that objectively should have already occurred. One in the legal profession is the percentage of women who are equity partners at law firms—18%. That number has only increased 2% since 2006, and we had achieved 12.9% back in 1994. Another resistant area is the financial arena—we now account for 29% of senior officials in finance and insurance, and no woman has, for example, ever been CEO of one of the 22 largest U.S. investment banks or financial firms. A third critical area that has been a particular priority for the Women’s Forum of New York is the focus of today’s event: gender diversity in U.S. boardrooms.

Let us be clear at the outset, this is not a pipeline issue. We are here—in numbers, and we are qualified—in numbers. And yet, there are comparatively very few of us in corporate boardrooms—17.5% in Fortune 1000 companies and 19.2% for the S&P 500.

She noted, “As a growing body of research confirms, it is smart business to have your board diversified to reflect the marketplace and benefit from broader perspectives. It is also the right thing to do.” White added that only 3% of Fortune 1000 companies have boards where women make up at least 40%. She recommended that companies keep “a laser-like focus” on gender parity and “reject any notion that there is a shortage of highly qualified candidates.”

According to Catalyst:

Board seats 1Board seats 1-a