Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays. 

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RESEARCH TIANGLE PARK – I am committed to creating leadership opportunities for women, especially women from underrepresented groups, because I believe that it will lead The Diversity Movement toward new and exciting innovations. I also want to serve as a role model for what I believe about the power and urgency of putting women into management positions. 

The research is also on my side: 

  • Peterson Institute for International Economics: “Companies with women in leadership positions are more profitable than those without.”
  • McKinsey, “Women in the Workplace 2022” study: Women leaders create higher employee retention, increased engagement and productivity.
  • Korn Ferry: Women leaders are “motivated by a sense of purpose and their belief that their company could have a positive impact on the community, employees, and the world around them.”

Despite all the indicators, however, women are largely blocked from leadership positions. Currently, some 10% of the Fortune 500 is composed of female CEOs (reaching its highest number ever in 2023), but there have been less than 100 since the list began. According to Chris Gilligan of U.S. News & World Report, while women make up 47% of the American workforce, just 42% hold managerial positions. Here in North Carolina, the numbers are even worse, with women comprising 48% of workers, but a dismal 29% of top executive roles. [Editor’s note: A new report on executive pay out today and linked below further illustrates the challenges female executives face.]

Donald Thompson

Considering the difficulty women endure to get into managerial positions, the numbers get more bleak when looking at women of color. As I’ve written, White women hold about one third of all management positions, Latina women and Black women hold drastically smaller shares at 4.3% each, and women of Asian heritage hold just 2.7%.

As business leaders, we have to admit – this simply won’t do. We must lead better and create opportunities for more women to join the managerial ranks. Read the studies and surveys I have cited in this column and see how organizations with women in senior roles have thrived versus their competitors. 

Women execs at top S&P 500 companies see median pay drop 6%


TDM has the audacious goal of transforming workplaces through diversity-led culture change. As we do this critical work, it is also important that we demonstrate our commitment to these principles. In this effort to elevate women leaders, TDM has named Shelley Willingham its chief revenue officer. 

In this new role, Willingham is at the forefront of creating opportunities for TDM to help more organizations achieve workplace excellence. She will now guide and oversee the company’s sales division, providing leadership and direction as TDM continues to grow and create client relationships across the country and internationally.

A global thought leader in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), particularly in its relationship with marketing and branding programming, Willingham becomes the second Black woman named to a C-suite role at TDM, following the earlier promotion of Kristie Davis to chief financial officer. Willingham is a frequent on-air commentator and writes a column for Forbes, which draws on her extensive expertise as an entrepreneur and marketing executive

Willingham’s new role comes at a moment in business history when more women are working than ever before (77.5%), yet they are still mired in jobs that do not pay a living wage. “We’ve recovered from a decline,” says labor economist Kathryn Anne Edwards, “but that is not the same thing as thriving.” She explains that many of the new positions “are not jobs that we would consider to be family-sustaining,” which reveals the true precarity of the economy. 

According to Julie Kratz, founder and chief engagement officer of Next Pivot Point and author of Allyship in Action, salary continues to be a challenge. “Child care costs have skyrocketed in recent years. If a woman’s salary doesn’t justify the cost of child care, that’s an easy decision for a family to make.” One way to retain women leaders, she says, is to “ensure women are being paid equitably to their male counterparts.” 

‘Off the charts:’ CEO’s raises are smaller – but median compensation is still $14.8M


When I look at studies about the future of work, it becomes clear that getting women into the managerial pipeline is essential for creating culture-centric organizations ready to win in the global marketplace. Based on size alone, the U.S. just doesn’t have enough people to fill the roles it will need to maintain its place in the world economy. We don’t have the luxury of leaving half the workforce behind. 

The Department of Labor drives this point home, explaining that between now and 2031 (just 8 years away) the labor force will be fueled by women over the age of 25. While most other demographics remain steady or dip slightly, women ages 25 to 54 will add nearly 3 million workers to the economy. 

Rather than continue to ignore the challenge of getting women into the talent pipeline, senior leaders should be creating formal and informal opportunities for them right now. Like so many aspects of leading, we are all going to have to make up for the lack of progress previous generations made in creating equal opportunities for women leaders. 

Next week, I’ll share some action items that leaders can take to help women gain leadership experience and move into managerial roles. If you’re an executive with a powerful mentorship story, I’d love to hear your perspective. Reach out to me on Linkedin.

To explore the topic further, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives culture leaders a trusted source of DEI content. The business-focused, multimedia content provides real-world solutions that leaders and managers can apply right away to build stronger teams and stronger organizations.

About the Author 

Donald Thompson founded The Diversity Movement to literally change the world. As CEO, he has guided its work with hundreds of clients and through hundreds of thousands of data touch points. TDM’s global recognition centers on tying DEI initiatives to business objectives. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, he is the author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics. Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events, and his podcast, or contact him at info@donaldthompson.com for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content.