Mind the Gap – the Gender Gap, That Is – in Our Profession & Communities

July 3, 2013

This article by Amy Holloway is featured in IEDC.

The growing role of women in the workplace continues to make headlines. In 2010, for example, women outnumbered men in the U.S. workforce for the first time in history. Just last month, the Pew Research Center reported that 40 percent of American children live households in which their mother is the sole or primary breadwinner. With women earning 57 percent of U.S. bachelor’s degrees and nearly 63 percent of master’s degrees, the role of women in the workplace will likely rise further in the years ahead.

Despite these gains, a gap between the sexes remains on a number of important dimensions.

  • Earnings: In most communities, men out-earn their female counterparts. In the 10 metropolitan regions with the highest female median incomes – which includes San Jose, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco – men earn an average of 22 percent more than women. That’s nearly on par with the national average; across all occupations, women’s annual salaries average 21 percent below men’s. (The pay gap tends to be greater in regions with higher salaries.)
  • Corporate leadership: Breaking through the glass ceiling can be especially difficult in corporate leadership positions. According to the U.S. Census, fewer than one in four top-level executives in the United States are female. Women hold just 16 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies. Twenty-five percent of U.S. companies have no female executive officers. No U.S. metro area has a higher proportion of female executives than male executives.
  • Small business ownership: The small business ownership rate among women lags but is catching up. Among metros with 100,000 or more registered businesses, Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage of female owned businesses – 33 percent. This spring, Forbes ranked the best metros for female business founders. New York City, Houston and Dallas won the top three spots; in the past 15 years, these cities experienced a 32-48 percent increase in the number of women-owned businesses.

Our firm tracks these trends to better understand the changing nature of the workforce. Frequently when we present these statistics, audiences separate into two camps. The first is appalled at how far behind women are in the workplace. The second is impressed by the strides women have made in the past few decades. Both camps, however, consistently agree that there is value in continuing to bridge the divide.

How our industry stacks up

The world of economic development professionals is only slightly more inclusive than the rest of corporate America. Our examination of the lead EDOs in America’s largest metropolitan regions – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Miami and Atlanta – reveals that on average, fewer than 20 percent of board seats are filled by women. (The highest is 31 percent and the lowest is 10 percent.) How does this compare to your community?

Salaries also differ greatly among male and female economic development practitioners. According to IEDC’s 2012 Salary Survey of Economic Development Professionals, the average base salary for men in our profession is $95,700. This is approximately $25,000 more than the average base salary for women ($70,800).

Why it matters: Bringing value

In many ways, economic development is a natural fit for female leaders, who bring talent and different perspectives to the profession. “Women are collaborative leaders,” explains Diane Lupke of Lupke and Associates. “This style of leadership is well suited to forming the partnerships necessary for effective economic development.”

JoAnne Crary, president of Saginaw Future and secretary/treasurer of the IEDC board of directors, agrees: “Economic developers are problem solvers and relationship builders at their core. Women are naturals in these roles.”

“I hope we have moved beyond the goal of having a woman in the board room just for diversity’s sake,” said Karin Richmond, principal of Intelligent.Incentives and an IEDC board member. “As women, we should demonstrate our value as leaders. Our natural gift is collaboration, which is critical to economic development success.”

We couldn’t agree more. Our firm is always searching for ways to differentiate our clients from the competition. By increasing the involvement of women in economic development, an EDO demonstrates its commitment to diversity, but it also gains a perspective that enhances its ability to think strategically, as well as its capacity to impress a wider variety of prospects.

Take, for example, the launch of Enterprise Florida’s new marketing campaign earlier this year, which champions the state as “The Perfect Climate for Business.” In the accompanying logo, an orange necktie replaced the “i” in “Florida.” This sparked a great deal of debate, as some saw the necktie as a symbol exclusive to businessmen. While criticism has calmed and Enterprise Florida remains committed to the logo, the incident revealed that gender sensitivity is an important consideration in the marketing initiatives of EDOs.

How economic developers can bridge the gap

As leaders in their communities, EDOs have the opportunity to advance the participation of women in executive roles, board positions, and in the field of economic development. Here are a few ideas on what economic developers can do to bridge the gap:

  • Engage newcomers. At the numerous community events and conferences you attend, take time to talk to attendees who aren’t being engaged by others. At one point, we have all been in their shoes. Invite them to sit at your table. Introduce them to others. This small gesture can build their confidence and increase the likelihood that they will stay involved.
  • Increase interest in our field among young women. Share your experience as an economic developer with young women who may not be familiar with our field. Volunteer to speak at women’s social and professional organizations within your community. Raise their interest in economic development as a volunteer and career opportunity.
  • Make a diversity pledge. European countries have enacted legislation that calls for a minimum percentage of female participation on boards. Economic developers can make a diversity pledge for their own board appointments and encourage other community organizations to do the same.
  • Establish a young women’s network. Austin, Texas’s Young Women’s Alliance is dedicated to helping young professional women network, develop leadership skills and serve their community. Since it was established in 1993, thousands of Austin women have participated in the YWA and gone on to serve on boards, start companies, and become top business executives in our region. Consider establishing a similar program in your community.
  • Recognize female leaders. Each year, the business journals in Raleigh-Durham, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Austin, for example, host women in business awards which honor women who have made a difference, blazed new trails, and achieved extraordinary success in their professions. If your community does not offer such an award, consider working with your local paper or chamber of commerce to do so.
  • Be a mentor. Mentorship for both women and men is extremely important to advancing the next generation of leaders. Become a mentor to a rising star in your community. Establish a professional mentor program in your community, with your state EDC, or even nationally.

Above are just a few of the many ways you can help close the divide between women and men in economic development and in your community. This is a topic that increasingly arises during our strategic planning work for EDOs. If you are interested in continuing the discussion, send your thoughts to amy@avalancheconsulting.com and we will share what we have learned.