The last year has been especially hard on women. American women lost more than five million jobs in 2020, according to the latest report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with Latina and Black women hit the hardest. In December, women accounted for 100% of the 140,000 jobs shed by the U.S. economy that didn’t experience net job growth.

In Philadelphia businesses, women are still facing challenges getting to the top ranks. For the past 19 years, the Forum of Executive Women has released a Women in Leadership Report in collaboration with PwC on the status of women leaders in corporate boardrooms and executive offices at our region’s top 100 public companies. Unfortunately, the 2020 report once again shows small and painstakingly slow progress toward gender equality.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we take an extra moment to celebrate women’s impact on our world, while also recognizing that all of us need to do more to support women, elevate their voices, give them a seat at the decision-making table and advance them in the workplace — and we need to do it quickly.

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The good news is that, for the first time, female Board member representation in our region has crossed the 20% threshold, up 3% since 2018 and 10% since 2010. The percentage of female top earners rose 2% and the number of companies with no female top earners dropped by three.

Yet executive leadership within companies in our area is predominately — almost shockingly — male. The number of female executives and CEOs actually decreased in the 2020 report from the prior year.

  • At the executive and CEO-level, 98 out of 100 of the biggest companies are run by male CEOs

  • 55 out of 100 companies have zero female top earners

  • 43 out of 100 companies have an all male executive team. That means there’s not a single female on the leadership team of almost half the companies in our region

While this report relies on data, it’s not just about numbers and trends. These numbers reflect the current situation of real women and what’s possible for their future as well as those of their families, neighborhoods and communities.

It’s long past time companies recognize the appalling lack of women at the top of their ranks and do something about it. They need to make changes because it’s the right thing to do and because a diverse, inclusive workforce helps drive better outcomes for organizations, elevate business growth and spur economic development in our society.

So we ask companies in this area: what are you going to do? Here are some ideas:

1. Start disclosing diversity data

For the first time in 2020, we looked at whether organizations voluntarily disclosed diversity data. Predominantly, they don’t: 32 of 100 companies at least mentioned diversity but only about 1 in 4 voluntarily shared diversity data and 2 of 100 provided statistics on gender, ethnicity, and race.

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The lack of diversity data is a critical obstacle to fully understanding the problem and more importantly — charting progress to correct it. Companies aren’t required to disclose data and they often don’t. We’d love to see this change come from within organizations, and for societal and stakeholder pressure to push for it. At PwC, we published our first-ever Diversity & Inclusion Transparency Report, which shares our diversity strategy and data and the progress of our actions. Moving forward, we’ve committed to release this report annually.

2. Look at your board diversity closely

Addressing the lack of women and people of color in leadership positions can include leaders and organizations to not only have courageous conversations about these problems but also then to consider changes to their processes and practices, their personnel review process and succession planning. Board experience gives women new leadership opportunities that will help their career growth.

3. Speed up and the pace of change and hold your own organization accountable

This isn’t someone else’s problem to fix. Change doesn’t happen organically, and it’s not enough to let it develop in its own time. Each of us – as leaders and as organizations – needs to take a look at what we can and should be doing differently. We put our own organizations – PwC and the Forum of Executive Women - in that group too. Once we’ve made commitments, share your progress.

The bottom line is this: It’s no longer enough to talk about where we went wrong or highlight the problem. It’s long past time to make serious and sustainable changes to right this wrong now and well into the future.

Deanna Byrne is Philadelphia Office Managing Partner at PwC. Kelley Hodge is chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Forum of Executive Women. Debbie Epstein Henry is vice president of the Forum of Executive Women