Minnesota stuck in neutral after a decade of incremental progress advancing women in corporate leadership

Rebecca Hawthorn and Joann Bangs

Rebecca Hawthorn (left) and Joann Bangs (right), co-authors of the Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership study.

The 2017 Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership

The number of women holding leadership positions at Minnesota’s 72 largest public companies has stalled after an upward trend over the last 10 years. According to the 2017 Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership, produced by St. Catherine University and available today as a special insert in the April issue of Twin Cities Business magazine, there was a net decrease of 12 women executive officers in 2017 (116 to 104). In addition, there was a net loss of 18 women directors on Minnesota’s corporate boards. Forty-five new directors were appointed to Minnesota boards in 2017, but only eight (17.8 percent) of those were women, a significant decrease from 29.6 percent of new women directors in 2016.

Notably, fewer public companies listed Minnesota as their corporate headquarters in 2017, resulting in a decreased sample of 72 from 85 companies tracked in 2016 – and therefore decreased opportunities. There were 605 available board seats in 2017 and women held 117 of these positions. Companies in the Minnesota Census have revenues between $17.6 million and $185 billion.

These results and more will be explored in depth at the 2018 Women in Leadership Forum on April 10 at 11:00 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, featuring additional insights from the report and a discussion with panelists from Pentair, 3M, McKinsey & Company and Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. Visit https://tcbmag.com/events/women-in-leadership-forum-2/ for more information.

“There’s no question that gender parity in corporate leadership has been – and will continue to be – an uphill climb,” said Joann Bangs, Ph.D., study co-author and Associate Provost, College for Women, Dean, School of Business and Professional Studies, and Professor, Economics, St. Catherine University. “This data represents a discouraging, yet important, reminder of just how far we have to go after years of gradually moving the needle in the right direction.”

A Sobering Year for Diversity in Leadership

The 2017 survey also marked the first year in a decade that the number of women of color directors decreased and the number of companies with women of color directors declined. More than three-fourths of Minnesota’s 72 largest publicly held companies did not have any women of color serving on their boards in 2017. Retirements and company departures drove a net decrease of five women directors of color, and only one new woman director of color received a board appointment in 2017.

“This census is an important tool to measure the progress we are making as a community and state to diversify our leadership teams and include women in key roles,” said ReBecca Roloff, President of St. Catherine University. “We know that organizations with higher percentages of women in leadership roles — including women of color — see better results in their business and bottom line.”

Local Trailblazers Serve as Models Despite Overall Setback

Several local companies are walking the walk when it comes to gender parity in leadership. Nineteen companies with both 20 percent or more women corporate directors and 20 percent or more women executive officers received Honor Roll status in the 2017 Minnesota Census, the same number as 2016.

Target Corp. and Deluxe Corp. are the only two companies that have maintained Honor Roll status over the past decade, demonstrating their consistent commitment to diverse leadership despite director and executive officer turnover.

“We have always taken pride in putting the right people into the right roles,” said Julie Loosbrock, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Deluxe. “We want diversity in our all of our teams to challenge our thinking and always gain new perspectives. At Deluxe, we have capable, determined and exceptional women in leadership roles who are helping drive our next century of growth. We have made great strides in advancing female leadership at Deluxe, and we will continue to build on the momentum we have made in this area. It is vital to our continued growth as a company.”

Six companies achieved “special distinction” status, with 30 percent or more women on both their boards and executive offices: Target Corp., Best Buy Co. Inc., Patterson Cos. Inc., Electromed Inc., Insignia Systems Inc., and Sleep Number Corp. Additional Honor Roll companies include Ameriprise Financial Inc., General Mills Inc., Hormel Foods Corp., Supervalu Inc., U.S. Bancorp, UnitedHealth Group Inc., Allete Inc., Apogee Enterprise Inc., Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., Medtronic Plc., New Ulm Telecom Inc., and Tennant Co.

The Bigger Picture

Research continues to support the value women bring to organizations when they make up a critical mass of corporate leadership, or about 30 percent (LeanIn.org, McKinsey & Co., Korn Ferry, The Peterson Institute for International Economics, Ernst & Young, Credit Suisse, Catalyst, Wolley, Chabris, et al, Dezso and Ross):

  • Stronger financial performance
  • Heightened engagement
  • Improved decision-making and group performance
  • Increased innovation

Although company commitment to diversity remains at an all-time high, there is a growing disparity about gender diversity efforts within companies that can impede progress on a national level. According to the Women in the Workplace 2017 study conducted by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co., 90 percent of companies surveyed prioritized gender diversity as a business imperative, yet half of those companies’ employees report a lack of company commitment and action to improve gender diversity. In fact, the percentage of women director appointments on Fortune 500 company boards halted in 2016, declining two points (Heidrick & Struggles 2017). Given this shift backward, they predict gender parity on Fortune 500 boards cannot be achieved until 2032.

A Path Forward

The 2017 Minnesota Census report pulls from the playbooks of a few Honor Roll companies and offers key strategies for diversifying leadership teams and maintaining gender parity. For example, Target aims for its corporate board to reflect its customer base, so it treats diversity and inclusion as its own business unit that holds the entire company accountable. Similarly, General Mills strives early in the hiring process to create diverse pools of candidates and then ensures new hires have adequate professional development and mentorship opportunities. U.S. Bank is building a unique and comprehensive strategy focusing on leadership opportunities for women in the organization utilizing the company’s Women’s Business Resource Group in new and unique ways and increasing its sponsorship pilots.

“More than half of our employees are women, and growing leadership diversity within our organization is a strategic business imperative,” said Jennie Carlson, Chief Human Resources Officer at U.S. Bank. “We are engaging with employees at all levels of the company to set goals and address opportunities, and our research partnership with business faculty at St. Kate’s is one example of how we are proactively measuring progress to achieve and maintain our long-term goals.”

About the 2017 Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership

The annual Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership is produced by researchers in the St. Catherine University Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL) program, in partnership with Twin Cities Business magazine. Data for the 2017 Minnesota Census was collected from company SEC filings, including proxy statements (DEF 14A), annual reports (Form 10-K), and current reports (Form 8-K). Excluded from the list are closely held companies, cooperatives and fraternal benefits organizations, and over-the-counter stocks. Of Minnesota’s Fortune 500 companies, three are not represented in the census sample — Land O’Lakes, CHS Inc., and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans — because they are not publicly traded on the stock exchange. Criteria for inclusion in the “executive officer” category vary by company. To be consistent, the Census uses only those individuals formally designated as Section 16b executive officers in SEC filings.