Silver Lining of the Recession…Not So Much

A month or two after the recession hit, there was plenty of talk (yes, including by me), about how this could be an opportunity to finally shake things up at the top. The big dawgs had been dethroned and the hope was that, in their fall, a more diverse, more ethical crew of leaders could rise to the top. Then again, this is corporate America.
Catalyst’s latest report on women’s share of board positions confirms that change wasn’t swept in with the recession. In fact, things stagnated:

  • Women held 15.2 percent of board seats, a number that reflects little growth over the past five years.
  • Women of color held 3.1 percent of all board director positions, compared to 3.2 last year.
  • Almost 90 percent of companies had at least one woman director, but less than 20 percent had three or more women serving together.
  • Women’s share of nominating/governance committee chairs is the only board leadership position in which women are keeping pace with their share of overall board seats.
  • Women’s share of board chair positions remained flat at 2.0 percent.

Ugh and ugh again. What is it going to take to shift this trend? Do we need to institute the “critical mass principle,” proposed by the National Council for Research on Women and Jacki Zehner? Do we need to start a movement of men and women who refuse to serve on boards that aren’t 30% women? Do we need to have a legal quota system like some European countries?
“It’s not enough to recognize the need to advance women into leadership positions. It’s time to execute on it,” said Irene Lang, President & Chief Executive Officer of Catalyst. “You cannot be a successful global business leader without women in your leadership.”
And as if that weren’t depressing enough, it’s not just women who are absent from the top, but we’re suffering on the ground. The Institute for Policy Studies has just released a report called Battered by the Storm: How the Safety Net Is Failing Americans and How to Fix It . Some of their findings:

  • Levels of long-term unemployment, underemployment and discouraged workers are reaching historic levels;
  • The percentage of poor children receiving temporary assistance under TANF (the main federal “welfare” program) has fallen from 62% in 1995 to 22% in 2008;
  • TANF benefits are far from sufficient to support the families that depend on them: 2008 assistance payments averaged only 29% of the money needed to bring families up to the official poverty line;
  • Even while labor force participation of mothers has increased, the supply of affordable child care has lagged behind, creating a significant barrier to employment for many, especially single mothers; and
  • Roughly 57% of unemployed people are receiving unemployment compensation; for those receiving benefits, amounts are less than half of wages, and many are losing work-related health benefits.

Some of the nation’s leading experts on poverty, included in the report, are proposing a $400 billion emergency relief plan to create and save jobs for millions of Americans while also offering adequate resources to vital safety net programs. “Our last lines of defense against family poverty are failing, completely. In order to guarantee a real economic recovery, Congress must act swiftly to invest in the most valuable resource we have in America — its families and its future,” said Irasema Garza, President of Legal Momentum, the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.

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13 Comments

  1. daveNYC
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    “A month or two after the recession hit, there was plenty of talk (yes, including by me), about how this could be an opportunity to finally shake things up at the top. ”
    Nice. I mean, sure we have over 10% unemployment, but at least there’s a chance to change the makeup of corporate boards.

  2. Comrade Kevin
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, as we have seen in the mainstream media and the major networks, chaos tends to reinforce the status quo rather than destroy it. Even now, the reality shows airing are parodies of the reality shows that came before them (which were, I needn’t even add, parodies of real life in the first place). Grasping for the lowest hanging fruit imaginable and not taking chances without a guaranteed rate of return insure that people of color, women, or other minority groups never successfully make inroads.
    I don’t have the answer. Not even close, but either we’re going to have to scrap the existing system wholesale at some point, or find a way to stabilize the thing enough to increase diversity.

  3. Comrade Kevin
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, as we have seen in the mainstream media and the major networks, chaos tends to reinforce the status quo rather than destroy it. Even now, the reality shows airing are parodies of the reality shows that came before them (which were, I needn’t even add, parodies of real life in the first place). Grasping for the lowest hanging fruit imaginable and not taking chances without a guaranteed rate of return insure that people of color, women, or other minority groups never successfully make inroads.
    I don’t have the answer. Not even close, but either we’re going to have to scrap the existing system wholesale at some point, or find a way to stabilize the thing enough to increase diversity.

  4. diana84
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Q: “What is it going to take to shift this trend?”
    A: Smash capitalism.

  5. Nepenthe
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    If I had a hammer…

  6. cattrack2
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Are you kidding me? The reason minorities & immigrants in this country have been integrated & assimilated to the extent that they have is because capitalism (regulated via ENDA & other discrimination laws).
    Tour a Parisian ghetto to get a sense of the hopelessness, frustration & grief caused by 60% sustained & endemic unemployment. Capitalism certainly has its faults (which is why we need things like ENDA & Affirmative Action) but it beats socialism by a country mile. The high level of anti-Muslim ‘friction’ (eg, the recent ban on Swiss minarets) in European countries is as much a failure of socialism as it is the fault of Eurocentrism.

  7. cattrack2
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    In fairness, improving minority & women participation in the Boardroom & Executive Suite is a huge lever to increasing the participation of women & minorities beneath that level. Those women & minorities will in turn mentor & help develop women & minorities beneath them. Its the converse of the ‘old boys club’.

  8. diana84
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    No, I kid you not.
    You state minorities and immigrants were integrated because capitalism introduced these anti-discrimination laws. Then you said capitalism has it faults which is why we need these laws. A bit contradictory, no?
    Where did you get this 60% sustained & endemic unemployment statistic, just curious. France is a capitalist/socialist country. Countries such as Sweden and Norway have higher standards of living (e.g. better education, access to health care, women in government, low rates of poverty) and are highly socialist, which I would say beats out living in the U.S.
    The anti-Muslim views (anti-different religion), is in the US as well. I don’t think that any economic system could eradicate these views, including racist ones, that would take more than capitalism or socialism.

  9. bartelbe
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Yes we shouldn’t worry about the recession, the mass unemployment that will tear communities apart, the damage to vital public services, or the economic hardships people will have to endure for years to come. Why, because we might get more women and minorities on the boards of companies. If anything shows the stupidity of identity politics it is this. It doesn’t matter who is in charge, they represent a tiny percentage of the population, and don’t give a damn about the people beneath them. All women board rooms will help women directors, not ordinary women .
    The rich look after themselves, if that means cutting wages, taking away benefits, or exporting jobs to China; to boast the profit margin by a few percentage points, they will do it. What really matters is class, not gender or race. If you are poor the world gives you a kicking, if you are rich you have the power, and live an easy life.
    Long term reform of how the Anglo-Saxon economies work can only come from old fashion mass movements. Those most unfashionable of organisations, the unions. Ordinary people only have influence and ability to change things if they work as a group. In that regard feminists are part of the problem.
    It is impossible for such action to happen in a world in which everybody identifies themselves by race, religion or gender. There is a competition between groups to define themselves as the biggest victim. So we have rich white women claiming they are oppressed through feminism. Rich black people claiming they are just as oppressed as those who live in the projects. Even rich white men are at it now.
    Do you think that Obama’s election will magically end black urban poverty? Than why should changing the boardrooms have any more effect. When they get to the top they will go native. The only difference is the person screwing you will be a women.

  10. Lilith Luffles
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Socialism =/= racism. I’m sorry, but it is not people in Sweden who are writing books about the Muslim Mafia and trying to convince the public that Muslims are trying to infiltrate the white house. It’s in capitalist America that people are profiting off of books that feed into a hatred and fear of Muslims.
    And I do believe Capitalism was around when black people and Irish people and white women wanted to work, and nobody would let them. To say that socialism allows for racism and capitalism allows for equality is ridiculous, indeed it is in a capitalist system that people can be bough and sold as slaves if they fit the criteria to be a product. And don’t get me started on capitalism uses women to sell products.

  11. Sweet Baby Ray
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Oh ah bloo bloo hoo my corporate boards aren’t diverse enough, whats a bourgeoisie feminist to do? Boy howdy when I get to the top of a fortune 500 company I’m going to exploit workers just a little less because I’m some bullshit enlightened liberal whos idea of social justice is making sure some of the suits are filled by the right people.

  12. willow33
    Posted December 12, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Sweet Baby Ray: I don’t think the way you are saying what you are saying is appropriate if you want to help well meaning liberals better understand class issues and social justice. Lets channel our energy in attacking capitalism, not Courtney.

  13. willow33
    Posted December 12, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Sweet Baby Ray: I don’t think the way you are saying what you are saying is appropriate if you want to help well meaning liberals better understand class issues and social justice. Lets channel our energy in attacking capitalism, not Courtney.

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