Diversity in Leadership: an Illusion or Reality?

By Krizia Pascuccio

The absence of gender diversity in leadership positions has been a prominent feature of the American mainstream business culture. What has been done to address this issue? Why is it important to stakeholders? How did it become so relevant? 

To answer these questions, let’s break down a few critical initiatives starting from 1964. After President Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson continued to tirelessly advocate for legislation that would address a lack of civil rights enforcement in society and the business arena. Although many groups opposed his ideologies, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, outlawing for the first time in history discrimination based on color, race, sex, religion, and national origin. It also supported substantial efforts to create what we now know as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces laws that make discrimination illegal in any workplace situation, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits. 

Another influential initiative was the Workforce 2000 of 1987, an investigative report that consisted of projecting how the US economy would look like in the early 2000s in terms of demographics, gender, and industry. Although it included different growth scenarios as more central topics, it considered challenging integrating a continually changing workforce. The Hudson Institute coordinated the efforts under the direct supervision of the US Department of Labor to not only comprehend what the new millennium needs and wants would be like, but also to understand the new composition of the workforce. The report accurately predicted that women would become an indispensable part of the American workforce shaping more than 40% of US workers in the 1990s, with a 2% increase by the early 2000s, which indicates that although women’s oppression has come a long way, a woman’s salary will reach its cap earnings of 66% in comparison to what a man earns. The report analyzes that other types of minorities will become more prevalent, including African-Americans and Hispanics, which will make up about 15% of the workforce. Nearly 30 years later, the general population comprises 40% women and 60% men identifying as 78% white, 12.3% black, 6.3% Asian, and 17.3 % Latino. 

After the report Workforce 2000 was written, the US experienced a decline in the advancement of gender equality at work that, according to Harvard Business Review, is mainly attributed to a lack of gender integration initiatives from managers. Workers must have a mirroring image of themselves in a leadership position, whether it is managerial or at the C-suite level, not only because they would gain relatable role models, but also because studies show that women and other diverse groups are the most significant agents of change and growth in the workplace. According to Harvard Business Review, from 1980 until the 2010s, 2.6 million managerial positions were filled by women, with a comprehensive change of nearly 90%. Another hopeful statistic shows that minority groups within women have been growing impressively over the past few years; women of color, historically underrepresented in managerial positions, have been filling 18% of these new leadership positions (Scarborough, 2019). 

The good news is that numbers are growing in favor of diversity. The bad news is that, in some instances, diversity seems to be taking place in a segregated way. 

What does this mean? 

In the 1980s, women were not prominent in any managerial position whatsoever. For example, education’s workforce was and still is considered a female sector, but it was mainly managed and organized by men. Nearly 40 years later, fields such as education, human resources, or real estate are strongly female-dominated, with 70% female managers. Although important but not surprising, fields such as industrial production or transportation services are still led by an overwhelming majority of men (Scarborough, 2019). 

Ultimately, a diverse pool of workers, managers, and executives enrich any given company with a greater degree of talent. According to Forbes, inclusiveness is directly related to profitability; in fact, many perspectives stemming from different cultures, genders, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and so much more tangibly enrich companies by increasing the customer base attracted (Discovery, 2018). Lastly, many of these efforts and positive changes have led to the creation of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committees (DEI) that are now pilasters of America’s most successful companies. Catalyzing change, educating employees and employers, and leading otherwise absent or difficult conversations all stand at the forefront of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committees. 

Breaking down barriers: Diversity and inclusion in the C-suite. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2020, from https://www.financierworldwide.com/breaking-down-barriers-diversity-and-inclusion-in-the-c-suite 

Discovery, R. (2018, August 22). Why Workplace Diversity Is So Important, And Why It’s So Hard To Achieve. Retrieved November 01, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/rsmdiscovery/2018/08/22/why-workplace-diversity-is-so-important-and-why-its-so-hard-to-achieve/?sh=29eb36653096 

Johnston. (2019, May 15). Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the 21st Century. Retrieved November 01, 2020, from https://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/reports-and-data/legislation-policy/naappd/workforce-2000-work-and-workers-for-the-21st-century 

 Scarborough, W. (2019, November 22). What the Data Says About Women in Management Between 1980 and 2010. Retrieved November 01, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2018/02/what-the-data-says-about-women-in-management-between-1980-and-2010 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2020, from https://www.eeoc.gov/statutes/title-vii-civil-rights-act-1964 

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