During my email scan this morning, I noticed an interesting post from Statistica regarding women in board leadership roles by country. Norway had the highest percentage of women board members (39%) while the United States (12%) was ranked was well down the list at #8.

I decided to look into the number of women enrolling in college as a proxy for determining the number of available candidates for women in leadership rolls. The Census Bureau provides detailed statistics on college enrollment going back to 1967. Below, in Figure 1, is what the trend looks like from 1967 to 2012 as visualized in Tableau (using the most recent data I could find).

Figure 1:

In 1967, almost 14 million more men enrolled in college than women. Beginning in 1988, women began to outnumber men. From 1992 on, women have consistently enrolled in college in the U.S. at greater numbers than men.

Figure 2:

As you can see in Figure 2, the gender mix of women/men has consistently favored women, particularly from 2000 forward. This means 105.6 million more women have enrolled in college than men. Given this pronounced shift, one would expect women to hold an increasing number of seats in public companies.

A company called Data Morphosis provides a TreeMap view of global board gender mix for 15,277 companies. While women are occupying an increasing share of board seats, the current penetration in most countries is less than the workforce statistics would imply. For example, the United States has been graduating a much larger number of women than men with college degrees for many years.

Why don’t women occupy a higher percentage of leadership roles? I haven’t investigated the causes, but I’d speculate there are several reasons:

  1. Women leave the workforce to care for children
  2. Many industries have a dearth of women employees
  3. Gender bias could be a significant factor

If you have more data on this topic, please share it in the comments. Women are making progress in the workplace. One would hope that government-mandated quotas don’t become necessary in the U.S. to achieve greater parity. My sense from the data I’ve seen is that women are making progress in the U.S., albeit slower than the numbers imply.

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Dan Murray

Director of Strategic Innovation