Driving Progress

In this issue of Diversity Woman, dedicated to professional and leadership development, we thought it an appropriate junction to take stock of women’s progress—as well as highlight the areas in which our role in the economic infrastructure can improve. If we are going to drive change, we first need to know where we are coming from.

And change is what it’s all about. Women are the fuel that drives the economy. Women, after all, hold the purchasing power and majority of stock ownership as well. We have collective clout. Let’s use it. As Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

So, let us look backward and project forward as we consider women’s advancement and measure how to drive greater progress.

In the Beginning

Reflect back to the first women’s rights convention, in 1848, held in Seneca Falls, New York. At that time, the concern was political, not economic, equity. At the convention, 68 women and 32 men signed a Declaration of Sentiments, which outlined grievances and set the agenda for the women’s rights movement. A set of 12 resolutions was adopted calling for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights for women.

With the passage of the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963, it became illegal to pay women lower rates for the same job strictly on the basis of their sex. Demonstrable differences in seniority, merit, and the quality or quantity of work might justify different pay, but gender could no longer be viewed as a deficit for women seeking jobs.

The workplace has changed significantly since the passage of the Equal Pay Act nearly five decades ago. Although conditions have certainly improved, women’s pay is still at stake. In 1963, women earned 59 percent of the wages men earned; in 2009, that increased to 77 percent, according to Census figures. All women, including women of color, are making headway. The average median weekly wage for African American women, for example, rose 8.8 percent from 2000 to 2009, although the median income for African American women was just 67.5 percent of men’s wages, and for Latinas just 58 percentblack.

Woman Are Economic Drivers

Today, women represent 49.7 percent of the workforce. Sixty-three percent of all women work, and 54 percent work full-time, many holding multiple jobs. Women now fill almost half of the country’s managerial positions. Forty-one percent of working women head their own household, as they are single, divorced, separated, or widowed. A high percentage, 28 percent, have dependent children. Clearly, women are responsible for bringing in the dollars.

We care about achieving pay equality at all levels—and for helping those at the bottom as well. According to a 2008 study by the National Center for Policy Analysis, nearly 15 million women in the United States earned less than $25,000 a year despite working in full-time, year-round jobs. We must erase the wage differential.

Single black and Hispanic women are particularly hard-hit, owning less than a penny of wealth for every dollar owned by their male counterparts and less than a penny for every dollar owned by single Caucasian women, according to the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

Wealth Gap

Younger women are changing the pay differential. As of 2005, women under age 25 working full-time earned 93.2 percent of men’s salaries, compared to those 25 and older, who earned 79.4 percent of what men pulled in. We are sensitive to the fact that one in four working families earns too little to meet basic needs. Working women are in need. Seventy-seven percent of all mothers with school-age children are working.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, allowing victims of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer within 180 days of their last paycheck. Despite the passage and signing, discrimination still remains.

A Report from the Front—How Are We Doing?


Women and Higher Education
Women hold a small edge in college attendance—they occupy 54 percent of the classroom seats. A 2010 study by the American Council on Education on the gender gap in college emphasizes that the gap is widest among blacks—63 percent women to 37 percent men. Rates are comparable for Hispanics—57 percent women to 43 percent men—and for lower-income Caucasians—54 percent to 46 percent. An enrollment boom among older women is further skewing the numbers.

The number of women with professional degrees is growing, and women are the majority in both undergraduate and graduate schools. More women than men earned doctoral degrees in the 2008–09 academic year. Women are moving swiftly in law, medicine, and accounting, as they are reaching parity with men in law and medical schools. For example, as of 2010, 47 percent of law school students are women. Women also make up 49 percent of medical school students. Enrollment rates at business schools remain lower. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, 39 percent of its test takers in the past year were women.

Engineering remains the discipline with the smallest proportion of women, with fewer than one in seven students being female.


Corporate Boys Club
As of 2009, women made up only 15.2 and 13.5 percent of board directors and corporate officers, respectively, in Fortune 500 companies. As of 2009, women made up only 15.2 and 13.5 percent of board directors and corporate officers, respectively, in Fortune 500 companies.

The United States is not alone in its boys’ club leadership. In 2009, Canada’s Financial Post 500 companies, women comprise only 14 percent of board directors and 16.9 percent of corporate officers. Similarly, women held only 9.7 percent of board positions in Europe’s top 300 companies in 2008.

Research shows that companies with at least three female board members and more women in senior leadership roles produce stronger than average financial and organizational results. However, women of color held only 3.2 percent of board director positions in 2008, according to a Catalyst study.

With the new financial reforms from Congress, the SEC is asking for more women on corporate boards. CALPERS, the Calvert Group, and others are asking for accountability. Other countries are mandating the change. Years ago, Norway began requiring that 40 percent of board seats be occupied by women.

But let’s not forget those who are paving the way and salute the women CEOs who are highly respected leaders of Fortune 500 companies: Indra Nooya, PepsiCo; Ilene Rosenfeld, Kraft; Lynn L. Elsenhans, Sunoco; Ellen J. Kullman, DuPont; Carol M. Meyerowitz, TJX; Ursula M. Burns, Xerox; Andrea Jung, Avon Products Inc.; Patricia A. Woertz, Archer Daniels Midland Company; Angela F. Braly, WellPoint Inc.; Laura Sen, BJ’s Wholesale Club; Susan M. Ivey, Reynolds American Inc.; Carol Bartz, Yahoo! Inc.; and Christina A. Gold, Western Union Holdings Inc.

Two women of color deserve particular mention for their success stories. It was exciting when Ursula M. Burns was named the first African American CEO of Xerox after Anne Mulcahy retired. Burns joined Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern and later assumed roles in product development and planning. Andrea Jung, who is Asian-Canadian, is CEO of Avon, “known as the company for women” and “the largest direct seller of beauty products in the world.” Avon is the world’s largest micro-lender for women, extending some $1 billion in product and credit each year to help women start their own entrepreneurial businesses.

Law Leadership
According to a 2009 survey by Catalyst of the nation’s 200 largest law firms, women represent 34 percent of co-counsel, 27 percent of nonequity partners, and almost 16 percent of equity partners. There is a drastic difference between women at the lowest and highest levels in law firms. According to a survey published in May 2010 by Catalyst, women make up nearly one out of every two law firm associates, but only one out of every six equity partners. Ninety-nine percent of law firms reported that their highest paid lawyer was a man.

Says the Catalyst report, “The retention, development, and advancement of women and minorities is a pressing issue for law firms. Although women of color represented nearly one-quarter of all women associates in 2008, only 1.84 percent were partners. Women of color continue to leave law firms at an alarming rate—75 leave their firms by the fifth year of practice, and nearly 86 percent leave before their seventh year.”

Accounting Firms
Accounting firms are advancing women, including women of color. According to Catalyst, women make up 62 percent of all accountants and auditors, and in 2009,

41 percent of all CPAs hired out of college were female. All the Big Four firms have shown a marked increase in the number of female partners in the last 15 years. Catalyst recommends that those in positions of leadership at accounting firms advise the industry to implement strict standards of accountability for gender diversity initiatives already in place.

Small Business Owners

Following is some encouraging data from the Center for Women’s Business Research and Census.

  • The 10.1 million firms owned by women (50 percent or more) employed more than 13 million people and generated $1.9 trillion in sales as of 2008.
  • Women-owned small businesses have grown at approximately twice the rate of all firms. Over the past two decades, majority women-owned firms have experienced 42 percent growth as compared to 24 percent growth for all firms.
  • As of 2007, women of color own 42 percent of all firms owned by persons of color. This number is up from 36 percent in 2004. Businesses owned by women of color employ 1.6 million people.
  • Small businesses owned by women of color generate nearly $230 billion in sales each year.
  • Small businesses owned by women of color grew five times faster than all privately held firms. Between 1997 and 2006, growth for such firms was 120 percent, compared to 24 percent for all firms.
  • Of all women-owned firms, those owned by Asian women have the highest survival rate.


Female Legislators
According to the Rutgers Center of American Women in Politics, of the 90 women serving in the 111th Congress, 21, or 23.3 percent, are women of color; in addition, an African American woman and a Caribbean American woman serve as delegates to the House from Washington, DC, and the Virgin Islands, respectively. Of the 71 women in statewide elective executive offices, 7, or 9.9 percent, are women of color. Of the 1,811 women state legislators nationwide, 355, or 19.6 percent, are women of color. They include 101 senators and 252 representatives; 335 are Democrats, 18 are Republicans, and 2 are nonpartisan. A 2007 study by the University of California at Irvine indicates that women of color constituted 4.8 percent of the total 7,382 state legislators.

  • Of the 71 women in statewide elective executive offices, 3 are African American. Of the 1,811 women state legislators nationwide, 234 are African American.
  • Latinas: Of the 90 women in the 111th Congress, 6 are Latina. Of the 71 women in statewide elective executive offices, 3 are Latina. Of the 1,811 women state legislators nationwide, 75 are Latina.
  • Asian American women: Of the 90 women in the 111th Congress, 3 are Asian American. Of the 1,811 women state legislators serving nationwide, 33 are Asian American.

Executive Branch
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 40 women have held a total of 45 cabinet or cabinet-level appointments in the history of the United States. Of this number, 24 had cabinet posts, including 2 who headed two different departments and 2 who held both a cabinet post and a position defined as cabinet level. Seven women currently serve in cabinet or cabinet-level posts.

State and Local Officials
Thirty-two women have served or are serving as the governor of a U.S. state and one the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. As of September 2010, six women are state governors. Women hold 34 percent of state legislature positions and many mayor and county officials and women of color are increasing their representation. At this point in the 2010 legislative session, there are 1,808 women legislators serving in the 50 states. Women hold 24.5 percent of legislative seats in the 50 states, a ratio that has increased by less than 4 percentage points over the past 16 years. Thirty-six women serve in the legislative bodies of the United States Territories and the District of Columbia. Since 1971, the number of women serving in state legislatures has more than quintupled.

Supreme Court
In 2009, we celebrated the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and, in 2010, the appointment of Justice Elena Kagan. In the court’s 220-year history, only four women justices have ever served on the Supreme Court: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (1981–2005) was the first. Also serving today is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (appointed 1993).

International Leadership
Seventeen women lead 16 countries on six continents: Germany, Ireland, Finland, Liberia, India, Argentina, Bangladesh, Iceland, Croatia, Lithuania, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Kyrgyzstan, and Slovkia.

Sports Leadership












  • Catalyst reported in June 2010 that in Major League Baseball, women occupy 34 percent of the director and managerial posts, and people of color occupy 20 percent of these posts. No women hold majority ownership of an MLB team or serve as general manager or coach. Only one person of color has owned a MLB team. Only one of the CEOs/presidents of an MLB team has been a woman.
  • In the National Basketball Association, six women (12 percent) had majority ownerships of NBA franchises. None of the CEOs/presidents is a woman, nor do women serve as head coaches or general managers.
  • Women have made the most strides in management positions in the Women’s National Basketball Association. Women serve as 20 percent of the majority owners, 46 percent of the head coaches, 43 percent of the CEOs/presidents, and 58 percent of the general managers.
  • In the National Football League, women make up 3 percent of the majority owners and hold 4 percent of the CEO/president positions. Women have never served as head coaches or general managers.



Edie Fraser is a Senior Consultant, Diversified Search, founder of Diversity Best Practices and Business Women’s Network, and is the author of Do Your Giving While You’re Living and Risk to Riches: Women’s Entrepreneurship in America.

Join the Diversity Woman Community

Join a network of career-oriented women and use the member directory to see all the members in your community and find world class mentors. Access exclusive leadership development packages to help you achieve your career goals. Work With Coaches. Take Career Development Courses, and much more.