Women inclusion cannot improve without zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault, intimidation


Grand Rapids Business Journal has been reporting on the biannual Inforum Women’s Leadership Report since 2013. The analysis of gender makeup of boards of directors and executive officers of the 100 largest Michigan-based, publicly traded companies has shown little change, and the 2017 report is of imperceptible difference. The Business Journal has opined for more than two decades on the cost to the local economy in discriminatory action by business owners and leaders, and long considered STEM education and corporate financial experience to be among the causes for so low an inclusion rate but must also include the facts of the “me, too!” generations.

In West Michigan, Herman Miller and Steelcase ranked among the top five Michigan companies, and Kellogg in Battle Creek scored even higher. SpartanNash and Wolverine Worldwide also have reported increases in gender equity on their boards of directors.

While much greater inclusion of women and girls in STEM programs is hoped to bring better balance, the Business Journal agrees with the report notation that education is not the issue, citing the fact women earn proportionately more bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees than men and are half of entry-level corporate hires. To that end, the Grand Rapids community has been highly involved in creating and growing programs like Lean In Michigan, linking girls with female business leaders, and Girls Who Code, a nationwide nonprofit that brings girls together to learn computer coding. These are especially important endeavors in this region of primarily private- and family-owned businesses. So, too, is the example set by area public companies that best know diversity is key to being competitive in an age of tremendous recruitment challenges.

What is largely unacknowledged and never cited for the lopsided corporate inclusion numbers among so many women achievers is the syndrome-making sustained headlines across industries and across the world: flat out and inferred sexual assault and intimidation. Countless corporate and executive women — including many, many women in the Grand Rapids area — have given a face to the numbers and to the effect on their lives, careers … and earnings.

Perhaps it can begin to change by inclusion of related questions in common corporate surveys or the hundreds of business ranking surveys conducted. But it would be best and most quickly begin to be abated if every CEO and business owner — regardless of gender — made zero tolerance an oft-referenced policy and employee handbook statement with no possibility of “parole or pardons” answered by immediate dismissal. West Michigan businesses can and should take the lead. Repeating or ignoring past failed behavior and continuing to repeat the same: that is the definition of insanity.

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