This week I will have the privilege of delivering the opening comments at a luncheon honoring the South Florida Business Journal’s Most Influential Business Women, where I will enjoy the company of  women who have not only broken but shattered the glass ceiling.  Among those honored for reaching the apex of their industries, Dr. Claudia Hillinger, Max Planck Florida’s Vice President for Institute Development and Barbara Souflas Noble, Director of External Affairs for Scripps Florida.

Is the success of these executives rising through the ranks in historically male dominated businesses, consistent with what we’re seeing for women pursuing leadership roles throughout the corporate world?

The answer reflected in the following statistics is unequivocal….no.

According to the 2009 Catalyst Census:

  • Nationally, only 15.2 % of CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies are women, a number which didn’t budge from the prior year.
  • Only 3.5 % of women in Fortune 500 companies hold executive positions and 6.4% are in top earner positions.

Locally, the numbers are even more dismal.  According to a 2009 article in the Miami Herald, in Florida, only 2 percent of the CEO’s of the 150 top public companies are women, a number representing a significant decline from the year before.  The same article looked at proxies and filings of Florida companies which revealed of nearly the 300 top executives at the state’s 70 largest public companies, only 20 are women.

These grim statistics become magnified when you consider what is actually going on in the workforce.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in light of the recent downturn in the economy, today women are making up the majority of the labor force in the U.S…  Furthermore, women are becoming better educated and getting more college degrees, traditional male industries such as manufacturing and construction are eroding and women led industries, such as health care and education, are weathering the economy better and actually growing.

How does this shift in the makeup of the workforce influence the earning power of women?  The answer is not much, but again, progress does exist only if it took a recession and more men out of work than ever, to help narrow this gap.  NBC Nightly News recently reported today, women are making 83 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.  This is up from 2000 where women earned 76 on the dollar and up sharply from 1979 when women were making 62 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

The narrowing of the gender wage gap provides a glimmer of hope for a more balanced future in the workforce.  Women are taking a more active role, taking less time off and making strides to become more educated.  When can we expect a more definitive breakthrough where women compete equally with a man to fill leadership roles, sit on boards and assume executive positions in today’s corporate culture?  What do you think?

For more information about the author Linda Conahan Esq., shareholder and member of Gunster’s Board of Directors, please click here.

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