Why wait to shatter Minnesota's glass ceiling?

  • Article by: Eric Schubert
  • April 21, 2014 - 6:13 PM

On the day glass-ceiling-breaker and Minnesota civic leader Nancy Brataas died last week, St. Catherine University Profs. Joann Bangs and Rebecca Hawthorne shared the newest “Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership” with a business leadership group. The statistics are discomfiting. That discomfort might be similar to how Brataas felt upon entering an all-male state Senate chamber in 1975, when some colleagues wondered if she violated the dress code by not wearing a tie or if a women’s bathroom was needed.

Yes, Minnesota ranks high nationally in Fortune 500 companies that have female board and executive team members. Yes, we have companies long lauded for diversity. But hold the Minnesota Rouser for inclusive leadership in our state. The bar is set pretty low.

Women are more than half of the U.S. population, earn most college degrees and are major consumers. Yet among Minnesota’s largest 100 publicly held companies, women hold just 14.9 percent of board seats and 18.6 percent of executive officer positions. Thirty-four of these companies have just one female executive officer, and 35 have none.

“Minnesota Census” findings show that 18 publicly held headquarters companies here are “zero and zero” companies, meaning they have no female corporate directors or executive officers. Not surprisingly, many have poor stock returns.

An oft-attributed rationale for the inclusive leadership void is that corporate boards are dominated by older white men who select fellow board members from among cronies and appoint CEOs of a similar gender and outlook. Sadly, the fraternity grows as some Minnesota “zero and zero” companies now have Generation X CEOs.

Outstanding performance comes from multiperspective teamwork, not segregation. According to researcher Catalyst, Fortune 500 companies with more female members on their boards of directors outperform those with the least such members in terms of return on equity, sales and invested capital. Research by Credit Suisse and others shows similar findings.

So how do we right this wrong, promote inclusive leadership, and propel our workplaces and economy? The fastest solution is for board members and CEOs to diversify. That’s happening some places, but overall it’s painfully slow. We can’t afford to shelve this year’s report. Here are some ways Minnesota can help turn the pages to progress:

Strengthen Minnesota’s brand: To help attract and keep talent, why not set the state apart by delivering on inclusive leadership at a new pace? Perhaps the Minnesota Business Partnership, Chamber of Commerce, Council of Nonprofits, Greater MSP and our business schools could help expand the census and progress. For example, nonprofit rankings could be added for a larger view. Overall findings, strategies and results could be spotlighted as these organizations convene leaders from business, politics and civic life.

Support life realities: The Ward Cleaver, one-spouse-breadwinner model is an anomaly, but we penalize people — especially women — for providing child or elder care. According to MetLife, a woman providing elder care to a loved one loses wages and Social Security benefits equaling $324,044. Let’s create care financing policies that help people get good help, avoid burnout and continue working. How about comp time after work needs have resulted in extended time away from home? Talented employees with integrated lives work hard, deliver tremendous results and help others do the same.

Show who walks the talk: Media routinely rank public company and large nonprofit CEO compensation and financial performance. Another beneficial ranking would be “inclusive leadership” among board and leadership teams. Let’s define where inclusivity is culture, not just a Web page bullet.

Update MBA curricula: Our business schools could devote an entire course offering on inclusive leadership, why it’s lacking, its benefit to growth and strategies to achieve it, so it becomes a normative expectation of future business leaders.

Because of leaders such as Nancy Brataas, we have many female legislators. Yet Minnesota’s highest public job and most of our highest private-sector positions are still male domains. Inclusive leadership is a competitive advantage. Let’s stop chipping away at our glass ceiling and shatter it for good.


Eric Schubert, of Inver Grove Heights, is a Gen Xer, communications executive, former policy fellow at the Humphrey Institute and inaugural member of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Minnesota program.

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