Season seven of Game of Thrones marks the year of the all -powerful woman! Men take a back seat as Cersei, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms and Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, battle it out to determine who will control Westeros, hold the Iron Throne and profit by it. Despite a lack of dragons and assorted magical happenings, businesses today are increasingly recognizing the positive impact of a women leader on the bottom line, given data demonstrating that when a woman occupies the front office or the Board room, the company experiences higher market returns and superior profits. Yet, gender parity in the boardroom continues to remain out of reach.
A Credit Suisse study reviewed nearly 2,400 global companies and found that businesses with women directors out-performed those companies with none –when it came to return on equity, average growth and the price book value over a period of six years.
According to Bloomberg, a study undertaken by Nordea Bank of 11,000 publicly listed companies indicates female-led companies experienced an average 25% annualized return, compared with an 11% return of large and mid-cap companies. What is not to like!
The Credit Suisse study also debunks the “Queen Bee” myth which argues that women who have made it to senior positions actively seek to exclude other women from promotions into top management. In fact, findings show that female CEOs are significantly more likely to surround themselves with other women in senior roles. Female CEOs are 50% more likely than male CEOs to have a female CFO and 55% more likely to have women running business units.
The good news is women deliver. The bad news? We are stalled in our progress toward board diversity. According to Deloitte, in 2016, 20% of board seats at Fortune 500 companies were occupied by women, only a slight change from 16% in 2010, falling far behind Western Europe’s 26%. The percentage of women appointed to director seats, that turned over or were added, declined 2% from the prior year, reversing a trend of seven years of growth, as reported by Heidrick & Struggles.
What’s standing in the way? Companies have been slow in making board diversity a priority. Few women reach the executive positions that enable them to enter the pipeline for board-level positions. And, the turnover of board seats is low, among other factors.
However, there are some promising signs, as pointed out by Egon Zehnder in a recent analysis. In the United States, increasingly CEOs and COBs are bringing diversity transformation in the boardroom to the forefront, with the technology sector leading the way. A new voluntary group of women leaders has committed to leading an initiative to reach gender parity by 2030. And, the 30 Percent Club is pushing for 30% gender diversity targets in the U. S. And, others are looking at the pros and cons of mandated board diversity quotas which other countries have adopted with some success.
Whether it is in the Game of Thrones or in a board room – women have stepped up as the agents of change. And, we need that now, like never before.
By the way, as the battle for the Iron Throne escalates, don’t rule out “little Arya,” who the Telegraph newspaper champions, given “she has romped around the Seven Kingdoms, slitting throats, cracking skulls and baking enemies into pies (and then feeding said pies to other enemies).” Maybe. But my money is on the dragons.