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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