Take a quick scan our 2015 Book of Lists Most Influential Business Leader list.
If you are like Jean Baker, owner of Jean M. Baker & Associates, you’re likely disappointed.
And so am I.
There are just three women on the 25-person list (1).
Baker, who has written a series of blogs for the Business Record (2), voiced her disappointment with us on our Facebook post announcing the list last January.
I responded to her, and provided the background that in fact the list wasn’t made by us; rather, it was compiled after polling our readers. While she was very understanding, she still felt that perhaps the Business Record could and should feature women in business more frequently so that our readers would become more familiar with the female leaders in the community, and, in subsequent years, vote for more women.
It’s natural for an editor to get defensive - I’m not sexist. Or am I? Maybe I am tacitly? Maybe our newsroom is or has been? Is our coverage the reason our readers voted the way they did?
Baker and I met for coffee to discuss the subject further, but her initial questioning pushed me to delve a bit deeper into our own coverage and products to explore our habits. I’ve never thought us to be sexist. We’re run by two wonderful businesswomen, consistently strive to include women on our event panels, and produce the Lift IOWA e-newsletter for women in business. We’ve consistently written about the challenges women face in business, recently held a Power Breakfast event on the issue, and annually honor women via the Women of Influence event and stories.
Ah, I feel better now. We have a nice defense certainly that I can fall back on.
But all that, while important and great efforts, I realized ignores the heart of Baker’s frustration - how frequently and how prominently we feature women in our main product. And as it turns out, nobody - to my knowledge - is tracking our statistics. Unfortuantely I don’t have a full treasure trove of internal data to pore over like a Bill Jamesian (3) general manager applies sabermetrics to a baseball team - gendermetrics if you will.
Doing a full analysis of our coverage is an undertaking worthy of a college research project. And perhaps a more thorough analysis is something we’ll undertake in the future.
But for my purposes, I decided to look specifically at our covers - the most visible and likely subjective place where each week we choose to feature a business leader. For the past five years, I looked at all 52 covers and simply noted whether a female was featured.
First, a little background. We take great care when choosing a “model” for our cover, often working well in advance and considering a variety of factors. But most important, the person we choose to feature on the cover, must be a key source in the story (4).
I found that in 2014, 25 percent (13 of 52) of our covers featured a female. In 2013 (25 percent), 2012 (19 percent), 2011 (21 percent) and 2010 (15 percent) (5).
So, overall, while I’ll pat ourselves on the back for the marginal improvement over the past five years, I didn’t exactly pop the champagne and proclaim the battle for gender equality to be over. Keep in mind the difference between 15 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in 2014 is just five additional covers.
OK, so now the context. What does that mean? On one hand, we can look at that and say, well, we know women are actually a slight majority of Iowa’s population at 50.4 percent. But we also know that in Iowa women are underrepresented in executive leadership positions, boards and elected positions. In fact, in the Iowa private sector, women hold, you guessed it, 25 percent of for-profit executive positions (6).
To make matters worse, despite women-owned firms accounting for 29 percent of all U.S. enterprises and growing at a rate exceeding the national average, women-owned firms only employ 6 percent of the country’s workforce and contribute just under 4 percent of business revenues - roughly the same share they contributed in 1997 (7).
In Iowa specifically, from 1997 to 2013 the number of women-owned businesses grew 23.4 percent. That sounds nice, but it’s good for 49th best among all states. And, in that same time period, the impact - total sales - of those Iowa businesses actually decreased 3.9 percent. Brace yourself - Iowa was the only state to have a decrease (8). Our goal is to be a reflection of the business community. We write about key players, and our sources for stories tend to be executives, business owners and key community decision-makers. Our audience is composed primarily of these types as well. Equality is 50-50, but at the executive and business owner level, there clearly isn’t equality. So by that measure, it’s somewhat natural not to have a 50-50 split.
And yet, while the stats for Iowa are sobering and are certainly creating headwinds, it’s a bit chicken or the egg, right? Should we feature businesswomen in order to improve the business climate for women? Or do women in business need to have a wider impact in order to be featured more?
There are some positive signs I can point to for the future, though. Our own readership demographics have changed. In 2008, 71 percent of our readers were male, and 29 percent were female. In 2014, 58 percent were male, and 38 percent were female. Notice that doesn’t add up to 100 percent (9)?
This year, our Forty Under 40 class had more females than males for the first time in its 16 years.
A look inside the voting for our Most Influential Leaders list, and a look back at past voting, shows that there is a growing number of women just outside the top 25 in voting. My suspicion is that as our audience continues to move toward balance, and as the efforts of many working to improve this issue for Iowa continue to take shape, we’ll see more women on that list, and of course more women on the cover.
Also in the Book of Lists is an additional list of 63 business leaders you should know. It’s based primarily off the voting for Most Influential Leader, but the newsroom has ultimate say on who is on that list. The percentage that were women in this year’s list?
Ah, there’s that 25 percent number again.
My little study is just a small step in trying to better understand what we have done, in order for us to best understand how to play a role moving forward. I’m certainly not washing my hands and moving on to the next challenge. At the same time, I know it’s not prudent to say we’ll just feature more females just to feature females, especially when a male is the key source in a story.
Yet, I’m not satisfied with Iowa’s business community not maximizing our workforce’s potential, and I feel the Business Record clearly has a responsibility and role to push for gender equality. Just because the ratio and the headwinds are what they are, doesn’t mean we can’t be better about making sure we are consciously keeping this issue top of mind when it comes to source and story selection, new initiatives and panelist selections.
I’m grateful that Baker pushed me to consider the topic more concretely. We know there are a large number of highly influential women that are impacting and going to be impacting our community, and we intend to cover them fairly (10).