2009 Women Worth Watching

Ilene H. Lang, President and CEO of Catalyst, Introduces the 2009 Women Worth Watching.

Profiles in Diversity Journal – 2009 Women Worth Watching

Women in Leadership: Why Not?

As Catalyst’s president and CEO, I’m often asked why we at catalyst think it’s so important to advocate for women’s advancement. I answer that question with a question of my own: Why not? It’s the right thing and the smart thing to do. Catalyst studies demonstrate a direct correlation between women in senior leadership and better financial performance.

But asking, “Why not?” isn’t just about financial outcomes. Women in leadership are proof of organizational meritocracy, where differences are valued and celebrated. These are organizations that are open to new ideas, foster innovation, and embrace more perspectives in decision-making. Perhaps most important, these are organizations where the decision-makers inside reflect the decision-makers outside in the marketplace. We know that women make or influence 80 percent of buying decisions. Reflecting them in senior management and on corporate boards shows a respect for customers, and that’s just good business.

These days, I find myself frequently asking why more companies aren’t stoking the pipeline of future leaders with the best and brightest women. Our recently released report on high-potential women and men during the economic downturn shows that women in senior leadership were—shockingly—three times more likely to have involuntarily lost their jobs because of company downsizing or closure than their male peers. How short-sighted!

We’re seeing an inevitable increase in the diversity of our population, our markets, and our workforce. Women, and women of color in particular, represent the fastest growing segment of the educated workforce in the United States and around the world. As individuals, as leaders, and as companies, we have a great opportunity—to leverage the extraordinary value of diversity for our companies and for society as a whole.

I’m delighted to introduce you to the women honored here in Profiles in Diversity Journal’s 8th annual Women Worth Watching® issue. These women represent the best of what is possible for organizations that embrace gender diversity–not as a “nice to have” but as a strategic business imperative. They also, unfortunately, represent a vastly untapped resource. According to the 2008 Catalyst Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500 and the 2008 Catalyst Census of Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the Fortune 500, women held just 15.2 percent of board director positions and just 15.7 percent of corporate officer positionsstagnant compared to the previous year.

Women’s advancement belongs in every smart company’s playbook. A 21st-century economy demands leadership that reflects a 21st-century workforce and 21st-century marketplace diversity.

These high-achieving Women Worth Watching® are role models and mentors to future generations of women and men in the workplace.

So as you read about and celebrate their remarkable achievements and inspirational stories, please ask yourself, “Why not women?”

Ilene H. Lang

Ilene H. Lang

Ilene H. Lang is the President & CEO of Catalyst, the leading research and advisory organization working with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. Visit the Catalyst website at www.catalyst.org.