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Lack of Diversity In the C-Suite Still Prevails

Robin Kelley, Ph.D.


The national discourse regarding women and minorities in leadership roles will undoubtedly in general spotlight C-suite demographic numbers. However, the lack of women and minorities in leadership. However, the lack of women and minorites in leadership pipelines is where the issues arguably begins. Women and minorities continue to fall well short and consistently lose ground at each and every level of the leadership progression ladder. The pipeline for underrepresented groups such as women and minorites can be traced to a defective or inadequate pipeline.[1] Women make up 47 percent of entry level hires in private corporations. Yet, women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted to the manager title than their male counterparts.[2] Promotions from entry level positions to initial management position are inequitable between men and women as well as racial minorities at private corporations. The authors of the 2017 report, Women in the Workplace Wоmеn found that women a hold mere 21 percent of entry level roles which translates to the reality that the vast majority of women have little chance of reaching the C-suite.[3] Racial minorities have even less of a change of reaching the C-suite as women.


This issue is not only prevalent in fortune 500 companies, but it is also an issue in higher education. Women and minorities have historically been underrepresented in university and college leadership position, specifically the roles of presidents, CEOs, and senior leadership. The aforementioned is true despite the demographic realities that there will be a higher percentage of minorities than whites in the population of the United States by the year 2042.[4]


Recent studies dedicated to higher education CEOs, Presidents, and senior-level administrators indicate that higher education leaders as a group are aging. In a study by the American Council on Education, sitting university and college presidents including CEOs and presidents of two-year colleges indicated their intent to retire to retire within seven years of the study. As a result of so many university and colleges leaders' intention to retire, there would be a dearth of the pool of future leaders created. If this issue is not addressed for the future, there will be a shortage of leaders, and overall leadership pipeline gap[5]. These findings are an indication of the critical necessity for creating opportunities for women and racial minorities to enter leadership roles. Opportunities for creating a more diversified leadership profile must move beyond rhetoric, have a defined strategy, and be intentional.


How to solve the issue?


Heightened emphasis on developing a robust pipeline of women and minorities will diversify the senior leadership ranks. There are many proven strategies to get organizations to reflecting the diversity in the labor pool.


With the rate of anticipated presidential retirements on the rise, higher educational institutions face the urgent need to collaborate on expanding the pool of qualified minority presidential candidates. Private organizations could also utilize collaboration strategies to improve the demographic profile of C-suite leaders. Organizations can implement Initiatives to provide women and minority mid-level professionals with opportunities to gain a formal graduate education, professional development training, and opportunities to participate in formal mentoring programs. Additionally, leaders need to be held accountable for fostering, supporting and advocating for more diverse leadership. The key to achieving a more diverse leadership in both private and public organizations is leadership support and competencies in diversity and inclusion. Although there are many programs that aspire to increase the diversity of leadership. Several studies reveal that these efforts have not translated into actual structural diversity that is sought for leadership. C-Suite leadership still fails to reflect the United States' racial, gender, and ethnic diversity.[6] Moreover, leadership development programs touch upon diversity, these programs still lack the depth needed for leaders to shift the paradigm.


The good news is that there is low hanging fruit which organizations can begin to focus on the issues such as internal promotions to mid-management positions. There are many supervisory and mid-management positions that can sever as pipeline positions for women and minorities to propelling into the leadership ranks. Mid-management positions can provide fertile ground for skill development and leadership competencies. Additionally, mid-management positions have in many cases high turnover is higher for those positions then positions at higher leadership levels. The qualifications for mid-managers are more readily defined. Creating programs that actively pursue and identify women and minority candidates, can facilitate the actual moving of the needle and build viable pipeline of underrepresented women and minority candidates. At the mid-management level, employees are less likely to have to play office politics, or network to get ahead. Whereas mid managers need to develop critical skills in collaboration and consensus building they can develop skills through professional development for higher level leadership role. Providing development opportunities to mid-managers such as networking and politics and in addition providing higher level skills such as fundraising and media relations can be part of an overall strategy to develop women and minorities for the highest levels of organizational leadership.

Lastly, one of the most effective ways in which to create a more diverse C-suite is for leaders to set the vision for diversity and inclusion and to emphasize unambiguous objects and goals for diversifying leadership. Leaders must provide the necessary resources including human capital, funding, organizational and individual development programs, and structured mentoring initiatives. Critically, leadership must also stress accountability.



@Robin Kelley, Ph.D., Kelley Consulting Firm, 2019

[1] Alexis Krivkovich, Associate, McKinsey and Company, Bloomberg Law, October 2013


[2] McKinsey and LeanIn.Org


[3] McKinsey and LeanIn.Org


[4] US Census Bureau, 2000.


[5] American Council on Education, 2013


[6] Weissman & Vaughan, 2001

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