Where Are Our Women Leaders?

News

Report Shows Little Progress in Omaha

BY MELANIE MORRISSEY CLARK
PHOTO BY DEBRA S. KAPLAN

Twenty years ago, the Women’s Fund of Omaha published its first Women & Leadership report. That 1996 report highlighted how many women held top positions in corporations, what the gender mix looked like in elected offices and who held leadership positions on both paid and volunteer boards. The news, unsurprisingly, was not good.

That report was updated in 2006—showing only marginal improvement for women in leadership roles—and it is now being updated once more. The full 2016 report will be released in early May.

While the earlier reports provided baseline data about the leadership landscape for women in Omaha, this new report incorporates detailed interviews with 80 influential leaders in Omaha’s corporate, academic, nonprofit and medical sectors.

I wish I could say that, over the past two decades, great progress has been made for women aspiring to fill leadership roles in Omaha, but unfortunately that is not the case. Not even close.

Although women definitely provide leadership in many areas of our community, their numbers are still only a fraction of men’s. And this means Omaha—despite its inclusion on many national lists touting our city’s great quality of life—is lagging behind other metropolitan areas that have seen diversification of their leaders.

Diversity, of course, goes beyond gender diversity, and again, Omaha is falling short.   “While women’s participation in Omaha’s workforce is consistent and strong, and their educational attainment surpasses that of men, the ranks of Omaha’s leaders are still largely male and largely white,” an early draft of the report states.

None of this is very surprising, and as a result, generations of women have learned to expect gender-based barriers in the workplace. But it’s a new day, right? Millennials are in the workforce now, and they are widely known to have markedly different outlooks than previous generations.

Well, not exactly. The 2016 report shows that when it comes to the workplace and leadership, the experiences of Millennial women are similar to those of the women who came before them, and so are their expectations.

If you’ve been paying attention at all in this century, you know this is something we should all care about. Study after study has shown that diverse workforces are actually more successful than their non-diverse counterparts, and we are no doubt losing talented female leaders to other, more progressive cities.

Why are so many organizations failing to prioritize diverse leadership? What challenges and opportunities await the next generation of leaders? How can women who aspire to lead get there and pave the way for those behind them?

As we wait for the final Women’s Fund leadership report to be released, this issue of Today’s Omaha Woman is devoted to exploring answers to these questions. Read on, and as you do, keep this little nugget of truth from the report’s authors in mind: “The power to make Omaha a leader in gender equity lies within each of us.” W

 

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