This blog is part of the series “The power of the female athlete.” View the complete series at the links at the end of this article.
Over 5,000 women make up nearly half of all athletes competing in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. But we haven’t reached the same gender parity on the executive board of the Tokyo Olympics.
In March 2021, the Tokyo Olympics announced that 19 women will sit on its 45-member board, meaning women will now make up 42% of Olympic executive board members. The announcement called attention to gender equality in boardrooms and raised questions about whether there should be equal men and women in leadership roles and on all company boards.
Having women in leadership brings unique perspectives and experiences to any organization or leadership team, has a positive impact on workplace policies, and can boost innovation and revenue. So, while it represents progress, 42% isn’t enough—in business or in sports.
Working toward gender equality at the Olympics
This year’s Olympic Games were widely touted as the most gender-equal in history.
“Inclusion, diversity, and gender equality are integral components of the work of the International Olympic Committee (IOC),” the organization announced in a statement in February, calling the 2020 Olympics the “first gender-equal Olympic Games.”
For the first time, the IOC also requested that all 206 National Olympic Committees (NOC) send at least one woman to compete. They have also encouraged each NOC to have one man and one woman carry their country’s flag in the Opening Ceremony. Still, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has a thornier history with gender equality. (For example, this is only the first year that women competitors who are nursing will be allowed to bring their children.)
In February, the former president Yoshiro Mori was also forced to resign after suggesting women talk too much in meetings. At the time, women made up a tiny fraction of the board.
Mori was succeeded by Seiko Hashimoto, a woman and winner of an Olympic bronze medal in speed skating, who promoted gender equality on the Olympic executive board.
The move is a sign people are beginning to understand the importance of creating gender equality in leadership. But sexism in the Olympics is well-documented and has come from multiple angles—from coaches to the media. Putting more women on the executive board is just one small step toward true gender equality in the Olympics.
Why gender equality matters in sports and business
Numerous studies now reveal gender equality and gender parity in leadership have various benefits, including improving a company’s profitability.
A survey from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, for example, showed that companies and organizations with females in at least 30% of leadership positions saw profits around six percentage points higher than competitors with fewer women in leadership roles.
And aside from these obvious economic benefits, having more women in leadership roles brings a diversity of opinions, which leads to more creativity and better problem-solving capabilities.
What’s more, 82% of Americans surveyed say it’s vital that men and women have the same chance to advance in their careers, according to a survey by the Rockefeller Foundation. Overall, the public is in favor of seeing more women in leadership.
But organizations oftentimes struggle to adapt and still have a long way to go. For example, only 21 women are currently leading Fortune 500 companies, and last year one-third of the Russell 3000 index companies had one or no women on their boards.
How one member of RingCentral’s board promotes gender equality
Mignon Clyburn, a member of RingCentral‘s board of directors, says it’s essential for women to advocate for themselves and ensure they are positioned to take on leadership roles.
That means you have to make it easy for people to recognize your talents in your field of interest. Maybe you can volunteer in the area or get involved in some other way, but it’s essential to pull up a seat at the table, be present, and engage.
“Things will not change if we continue to sit here and acknowledge the problem and not do other things proactively to make sure that our talents are there for the world to see,” Clyburn says. “We need to be in that space. We have to make sure that we are where the decision-makers are.”
Clyburn is no stranger to taking on important roles. She was a Commissioner of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from 2009 to 2018, and she was also its acting chair.
However, Clyburn says it’s imperative to have goals and timetables for gender equality when it comes to running a business. You can’t sit around and wait for things to happen.
“[Gender parity] will not happen if it’s not codified. If we do absolutely nothing, it will take 70 years for women to have parity on boards, commissions, the C-suites, and the managerial workplace,” she says. “We need to be intentional about it.”
RingCentral benefits from gender equality
RingCentral employs many talented, ambitious, and courageous women, and the company views its diverse team as one of its biggest strengths.
The company achieved a 100% ranking on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI). In addition, according to the annual Comparably rankings, RingCentral’s CEO Vlad Shmunis is among the top ten best CEOs for women in the country.
Clyburn argues the company has seen numerous benefits due to the way women working at RingCentral assert themselves in the workplace as well as the support female employees receive from leadership and one another.
“All of these upticks we’re seeing—financially and with social governance—are because of women doing what it takes to ensure their presence will make a difference,” she says. “We all benefit.”
Read more from The power of the female athlete:
The warrior in us all: What working women can learn from female athletes
5 examples of powerhouse women pushing back in business and athletics
Originally published Jul 27, 2021, updated Dec 30, 2022