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Women's Power & Influence Index 2.0: Bridging the Gender Gap in Corporate America

Picture provided by the Arizona State University Difference Engine Team

By: Hiba Fatima

During the commemoration of International Women’s History Month in March, the Difference Engine initiative, spearheaded by Arizona State University (ASU), convened for its second annual unveiling of the Women’s Power & Influence Index. Under the banner of "Women’s Power & Influence Index 2.0," this event spotlighted the significant strides ASU members have made in recent years.I had the privilege of attending the Index event this year, and I was thrilled to witness the advancements the team has achieved over the past year. As a student approaching the final months of my undergraduate studies and preparing to enter the professional realm, I found it particularly insightful to learn about the findings from the Difference Engine's research regarding Fortune 500 companies and their focus on diversity within their corporate environments.

At its core, the initiative distills its mission to the fundamental premise of assessing companies based on their gender policies and metrics related to women’s power and influence within the organizational landscape. Ehsan Zaffar, who leads the project, instilled enthusiasm for the endeavor by highlighting the urgent need for data-driven insights within Fortune 500 companies. He explained that the issue with inaccurate or incomplete data is that "you cannot change what you can't measure." By maintaining the Index as an annual event, the project essentially compels companies to align with contemporary expectations and, more importantly, to focus on their employees' well-being. The team asserts that public rankings are the catalyst for driving behavioral change in these corporations.

In its second edition, the Difference Engine team conducted research on a diverse range of Fortune 500 companies, covering industries from technology and healthcare to streaming services. They categorized companies into three groups based on their progress in addressing gender disparities in their leadership and overall corporate culture: trailblazers, pacesetters, and late bloomers. Trailblazers are those leading the charge in mitigating gender disparities, with examples including Disney, United Healthcare, Citibank, and Johnson & Johnson. Pacesetters are companies making some progress but not yet achieving significant changes, like Microsoft, Adobe, Morgan Stanley, and Target. Late bloomers, on the other hand, have made little to no progress in this area, with Boeing, Chevron, Verizon, and Oracle serving as examples.

For the latter part of the index, the Difference Engine team hosted a panel discussion with four distinguished women who represent the pinnacle of professional development. The panel included Nancy Gonzalez, Executive Vice President and Provost of Arizona State University; Susan Stevens, a member of the Board of Directors of Resolute Square, a public benefit corporation promoting democratic values; Laurie Leshin, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Mukta Mohan, Vice President of Higher Ground Audio, President Obama and Michelle Obama's podcast company; and panel moderator Kai Ryssdal, the host and senior editor of "Marketplace."

The panelists shared personal stories about their journeys to success and the obstacles they had to overcome. Laurie Leshin, for example, spoke about her guiding principle of "being a role model, but also embodying that role to drive change." She emphasized that to truly make a difference and tackle the gender equity crisis, one must "break all the rules but stay on the team that allows you to create a new and fairer environment." During their discussion, the panelists noted that while the gender pay gap has improved over the past 100 years, it's far from resolved. They stressed the need to reimagine the current system to provide women with more opportunities to achieve higher-ranking positions. According to the Difference Engine's research, only 52 (10%) of the CEOs among the 500 Fortune companies they studied are women, highlighting the significant work still to be done.

The second edition of the Women’s Power & Influence Index demonstrated the importance of persistent efforts to advance gender equality in the workplace. Through detailed research and open discussions, the Difference Engine initiative has not only highlighted the progress made by certain companies but also underscored the ongoing challenges in achieving true gender equity. The event's public rankings and panel discussions serve as crucial tools for encouraging companies to adopt more inclusive policies and practices. With only 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs being women, there's a clear need for continued advocacy and action. 

As the initiative moves forward, it aims to maintain pressure on organizations to drive meaningful change, ensuring that gender equity is more than just a goal—it becomes a reality.


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