Academics and Research / News

Women’s College releases results of national leadership study

It’s been nearly 50 years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act and 49 years since Title VII of the Civil Rights Act barred discrimination in employment based on race or sex. While women have made significant progress in many areas of the workforce over the past five decades, a recent study, Benchmarking Women’s Leadership, second edition, found there is still a significant gap between women and men in positional leadership roles.

The study, conducted by The Women’s College of the University of Denver on behalf of The White House Project—a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that aims to advance women’s leadership—looks at the current state of women in leadership positions and finds that progress has been slow.

Four of the 14 sectors studied were released Oct. 22. They showed that even when women outperform their male counterparts, they still are not recognized for senior leadership positions as often as men. The sectors released include politics and government; nonprofit; business; and entrepreneurship.

Research lead Tiffani Lennon, chair of the law and society department at The Women’s College, said that since the last Benchmarking study in 2009, the number of women in leadership positions has “remained flat or has slightly decreased” across many sectors.

She notes that at this rate, women will not be at parity with men until 2085.

“By sharing this data, we hope to spark thoughtful discussion and collaboration between men and women in exploring these issues. We need more men in conversation with women addressing strategies to increase the percentage of women in positional leadership roles,” said Lynn Gangone, dean of The Women’s College.

According to the study, women received only 11 percent of the capital investment but comprised the top 20 percent of successful entrepreneurs in 2011. Conversely, male entrepreneurs received 89 percent of the capital investment and comprised 80 percent of the top entrepreneurs.

Additionally, net income growth for companies with women directors on their boards has averaged 14 percent over the past six years, whereas companies with no female representation have seen just 10 percent growth.

Overall, the study found that women are significantly better represented in top leadership positions among organizations and firms with merit- and performance-based policies that are enforced.

Additional initial findings from the study include:

  • Government and politics: Women hold 26 percent of senior leadership roles on average across all governmental agencies in 2012, and 26 percent of federal judgeships.
  • Business: Women’s overall representation in the business labor force climbed from 48 percent in 2008 to 49.1 percent in 2012. Yet, on average, women fill just 11.76 percent of all leadership roles among the top 10 companies in this sector.
  • Nonprofit: Among nonprofits with budgets in excess of $25 million, women hold only 21 percent of leadership roles, even though they make up 75 percent of the workforce. Yet in some areas, such as social entrepreneurship, women clearly dominate in terms of success and impact.


The final results of the second edition of Benchmarking Women’s Leadership will be released in March 2013. The first edition was released by The White House Project in 2009.


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