by Melanie Vine
July 3rd, 2015

I’ve been a member of our Women’s Leadership Network since starting at Weber Shandwick five years ago. Last week, I was asked why it mattered.

“Why do you even have this group? There are heaps more women in top positions now!”

He was right. It is much better. But it’s not equal and it’s certainly not ideal.

In Australia, only 21% of all board members are women, according to the 2014 BlackRock review of gender diversity. Globally, 5% of CEOs running U.S. Fortune 1000 companies are women. Women run just 4% of FTSE 100 companies.

The stats are bleak. But what does it mean, why is it happening and most importantly, why does it matter?

These were some of the questions addressed by a Weber Shandwick report released this week, which explored the lifecycle and impact of female CEOs on a company’s reputation: ‘The Female CEO Reputation Premium? Differences and Similarities.’

You can view the full report via this link, but here are some things you need to know:

Bringing home the bacon: According to a report from Catalyst, companies with more women in top management positions deliver 34% greater returns to shareholders than those with less. Gender diversity clearly has its benefits.

Talking shop: Compared to male CEOs, female CEOs are more likely to be described as being more willing to talk to the media than they were a few years ago (43% vs. 52%, respectively) and more likely to be comfortable doing so (33% vs. 39%). Female CEOs are also more likely than their male counterparts to participate in social media (20% vs. 15%). The report notes that because of the fewer number of female CEOs, however, they might be in higher demand to publicly share their opinion.

Overestimating how good it is: The executives surveyed for Weber Shandwick’s report, irrespective of gender, seem largely unaware of how few women have actually risen to the top. When asked to estimate how many large companies around the world have female CEOs, the average respondent’s estimate is 23%. Surprisingly, our female executives’ overestimations were significantly higher than those of male executives (25% vs. 21%, respectively).

But wait. Do women even want to be CEOs? Surprisingly, our pipeline is rather dry. We asked global executives whether they would want to be CEO one day. Nearly one-third of male executives (32%) but only one-fourth (23%) of female executives said yes.

How is it possible that only 23% of female executives aspire to be at the top one day? There are a couple of reasons explored in this report.

One reason is that female millennials are less likely than other females to have hit glass ceilings or to have faced gender discrimination, if only because of the brevity of their experience in the workforce. They may feel less obliged to obey the ever-increasing demands of shareholders and perhaps want to pursue more meaningful long-term goals. In addition, a recent report from Bain & Company in America found that two bad years at the beginning of a woman’s career is all it takes to drain her long-term ambitions.

Secondly, having a female CEO role model seems to make a difference for women seeking a rise to the top – a real catch-22.

More and more research is highlighting the financial and cultural benefits of having females in leadership positions. But without a strong pipeline of females motivated to capture the top job and with a small pool of senior female role models, it seems we’re a little stuck.

Where does this leave us? As women, we should to look to all leaders for inspiration; female or not. And I can only hope that as the value of women in senior management roles becomes more apparent, company heads will more persistently aim to inspire and motivate their female employees.

Naomi Brooker is an Account Director at Weber Shandwick / Creation

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