In Lean In, one of the more talked about books released 1 this year, Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg addresses the progress of women in the corporate world up to this point and discusses why it has stalled. Her ideas on why women unintentionally hold themselves back and the ways in which they can change that behavior has been the fodder of talk shows, news stories and national debate.
Yet, despite all the good intensions and advice, the numbers tell a not-so-flattering tale.
Case in point is the progression (or lack) of women represented on boards of directors. According to information released by TD Bank earlier this spring, the percentage of women on boards of directors in the United States came in at 12.6 percent in 2011. Canada was slightly higher at 13.1 percent of women serving on boards. The top five countries on the list were all European--Norway with 36.3 percent, Finland, 26.4 percent, Sweden with 26.4 percent, France, 16.6 percent and Denmark with 15.6 percent.
"We've certainly added and the share is slowly inching up," says Beata Caranci, deputy chief economist with TD Bank. "But it's not gaining momentum and you're not seeing an acceleration of the rate at which women are represented as opposed to what we're seeing in other countries."
It is the policies being implemented in other countries that in many ways are at the heart of the differentiation between North America and the rest of the world. Some of the countries at the top of that list, Norway for example, introduced aggressive quota systems on all publically listed companies that require those firms ensure women represent 40 percent of their boards.
Even in developing countries around the world, numbers have increased beyond what has been seen in North America. In a Grant Thornton report, Women in Senior Management: Setting the Stage for Growth, countries such as China, for example, have seen a rise with 51 percent of senior management positions being held by women, compared to 25 percent last year.
"I attribute it to opportunities," says Erica O'Malley, national managing partner of Women's Initiatives and Programs for Grant Thornton. "I think that the focus and need of leadership positions to bring a diverse point of view and a different set of skills to the table is valid. I think leaders agree with that. And when you are growing and adding positions it's easier to add positions for women in senior roles versus transitioning typically...