Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to attend a Women's Executive Leadership Roundtable at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. The event was opened by Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla and Hilarie Bass, two amazing leaders who set the tone for the breakfast event. After their remarks we were honored to hear from an executive panel that consisted of Jennifer M. Starkey, SVP Regional Vice President, TD Bank, Roberta Loomar, General Counsel, Apotex, Diana Dobin, President, Valley Forge Fabrics, Caroline Fleischer, Managing Principal, Cresa, Courtney Seely, General Counsel, Orangetheory Fitness and Cristina Allan, President & CEO, AlphaStaff. All of these women are accomplished, talented and successful executives that would be role models and mentors for anyone entering the business world. As the father of three daughters, It thrills me to see women role models like these executives that are paving the way and creating opportunities for women for in the next generation.

Opportunities and the Gender Gap

As I thought about their comments and about opportunities it made me take pause and think about a recent interview I read with Sallie Krawcheck, former president of Global Wealth & Investment Management at Bank of America. Sallie had recently lent her considerable talent and skills to a non-profit organization she helped found “85 Broads”, which is dedicated to professional and social networking for women, much as Hilarie Bass has, whom we heard from at this roundtable event. The interview presented a stark reminder. Women in the workplace have now become nearly equal in numbers to men reaching 47% of the total labor force in 2017, yet are still wildly underrepresented in the senior ranks of management. Fortune 500 Executive Officer positions held by women are only 15%, and 21% for board positions. The statistics get even worse when you delve into specific industries like manufacturing or financial services. The simple fact is that Corporate America, and most other fields, are still dominated by men. In addition to the gender gap in leadership, women still earn $.80 for every dollar men earn. While the gap is steadily moving to parity, women still lag behind me significantly.

The ‘Only’ experience

A recent McKinsey study highlighted the "Only Experience". Being “the only one” is still a very common experience for many women in business. "One in five women say they are often the only woman or one of the only women in the room at work: in other words, they are “Onlys.” This is twice as common for senior-level women and women in technical roles: around 40 percent are "Onlys." Women who are the only one in the "room" have significantly more challenges than those who work with other women. The old adage is true; "people promote and hire in their own image". The McKinsey study went on to identify that more than "80 percent are on the receiving end of microaggressions, compared with 64 percent of women as a whole." Women are more likely to be sexually harassed and provided less coaching and development than their male counterparts.

The internal bias that we all carry also is affected by women’s approach to how they work and interact with their coworkers, colleagues, and partners which is far different than men. For example, in business negotiations, men are “hard-wired” to achieve a win-lose scenario, striving to be the winner, where women are far more concerned on achieving an equitable outcome while seeking to sustain and maintain the relationship after the transaction. Studies indicate that women tend to be more compassionate, balanced and “people” focused than their male counterparts.

Being an Advocate for Change

I have advocated for years that women generally make better employees and leaders. My statement is purely anecdotal and based upon my own personal experience in leading people for over 20 years. My observations over the years have led me to believe strongly in this position that women are more loyal, focus on their roles more intently and execute with far less hubris and ego than their male counterparts. I have had the opportunity to coach, mentor and lead some incredible women. If I take inventory of the best and brightest employees and leaders I have worked with over the years the majority are women. While my assertions are by no means scientific, more and more data is coming forward to support my observations. For this reason, when our firm began acquiring new businesses, my partners and myself appointed my wife as the new President of the most recent company in our portfolio.

Ultimately changing this paradigm is going to take more than facts and discussion. It will take leadership and more importantly male leadership to drive a cultural change in business. Women themselves also must change. As Sallie Krawcheck so simply states, women need to “ask for a raise”. We live in a complex world that is riddled with bias and inequality. True equality and objectivity may never be achieved, but by raising awareness and tirelessly being as equal as possible we can we can close the gap.

Value and Worth

Women must also advocate for their good work and be as vocal and aggressive as men in ensuring that they are recognized, promoted and compensated for their contributions. Men in leadership roles must be balanced and thoughtful in their evaluations, seeking to ensure that the best performers, not just the most vocal are recognized and most importantly, we all must realize that every employee has value and worth and all must be given equal opportunity to demonstrate their value through performance and contribution and be recognized for that contribution. As Martin Luther King so eloquently said: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”. I am confident that equality can and will be achieved in our lifetime and must be a lynchpin of leaders and companies objectives and strategies.