The workforce leadership gender gap is an ongoing, persistent, and frustrating problem. Women still hold a tiny percentage of leadership positions in companies. As an accomplished woman entrepreneur, this is maddening for many reasons.

First, only 17 percent of startups have a female founder--how did I get to be such a minority? Women now earn more college degrees than men, so the problem clearly isn't education, aptitude, or intelligence.  

But the leadership numbers don't lie, and they're dismal. Which is unfortunate--if not outright stupid--for companies.

There are many benefits to having more women in leadership roles, but one very clear one is money. For example, companies with at least 30 percent of C-suite positions filled by women see a 15 percent increase in profits, compared to companies with no women in C-level roles.

Change is needed to close the gender gap more quickly, and I believe that one of the more promising places to start is remote work.

At the remote work resource site, Remote.co, we've interviewed nearly 130 remote companies and noticed a trend: women hold more leadership roles in those companies.

In reviewing data from 128 companies that operate mostly or fully remotely, we found: 19 percent of mostly or fully remote companies have women CEOs, compared to 5.2 percent of S&P 500 companies and 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

When we looked at only fully remote companies, which included 77 of the original 128, we found 29 percent of completely remote companies have either women CEOs, founders, or presidents. 13 percent have female CEOs.

Why is this? And what impact could this have for companies?

1. Remote companies don't adhere to traditional notions of what leadership "looks like."

The traditional "look" of leadership in most people's minds is male. And when management is focused on face-time in the office, rather than results, that traditional look can persist.

But remote companies simply don't function this way. "For women, one of the greatest benefits of being in a [remote] organization is not having to spend so much of their lives playing the part of a leader who looks a certain way," says Alice Hendricks, CEO of Jackson River, LLC, a fully remote software company. "Instead, they get on with the business of running teams, producing results, and being the leaders that their companies need."

2. In a remote company, the focus is on results, not time-in-seat.

Women are still responsible for the bulk of caregiving, whether it's for children, elderly parents, or other relatives with chronic health issues.

Emily Morgan, single mother and the founder of Delegate Solutions, which provides entrepreneurs with strategic support services, sees remote work as a way for women to balance personal responsibilities and career advancement, without their loyalty or commitment to the company being doubted.

"If my son is sick, I am the one who has to stay home to care for him," says Morgan. "Thankfully, because my company is remote, I am able to do so more easily than a woman who is a leader in a traditional company who is scrutinized for not being at her desk from 8-5, because that is how traditional companies view productivity: time given."

3. Remote work minimizes the forced choice between work and family.

Because traditional companies are often inflexible in terms of shifting work schedules or working remotely, caregivers (largely women) are forced to choose between putting in face-time at the office and meeting their personal obligations.

39 percent of mothers said that at some point in their work life they had taken "a significant amount of time off" to be a caregiver, compared to only 24 percent of fathers.

Shelly Spiegel, CEO and chief creative officer at Fire Engine RED, a marketing, technology, and data solutions company, says, "Being 100 percent [remote] puts a good deal of flexibility into our schedules. Because we're not commuting, we all have more time to do the things we want and need to do."

In addition to supporting more women in leadership roles, remote work offers very real bottom line benefits to companies. Remote work shifts a company's focus towards the most important things: studying results, improving processes, and maximizing productivity--all of which can increase profits (not to mention the tremendous cost savings from remote work--$11,000 annually per half-time remote worker).

Remote work isn't  the only solution to the persistent gender gaps in leadership and wages, but it should be one piece to the complex puzzle. All companies need to take the emphasis off of what a leader "looks like" and put it on results. And all companies should make it possible for all workers--women and men--to better balance work and life responsibilities, through remote and flexible work options.

In remote companies, professionals' actions, abilities, and results are the focus, which allows the best performers, regardless of gender, to assume leadership roles.

Published on: Nov 9, 2017