In Northeast Ohio and Akron, women are underrepresented in senior leadership roles and paid less. Women of color are the least represented in senior leadership. And women representation on nonprofit boards is unchanged since 2014.

Those are the key findings in a study released Friday by the Women’s Network at its first women’s leadership conference held at the John S. Knight Center in Akron. Women’s Leadership Summit: FLUX: A Movement for Change conference was attended by more than 300 people.

The “Women’s Network Gender Equity and Female Leadership Research Study” was commissioned two years ago as a way to see how women locally were faring in leadership roles compared to nationally. It is based on data compiled on 5,000 senior leaders across 348 employers and 167 nonprofit organizations in Northeast Ohio. The data included nonprofits and private corporations in Summit County and in public companies in Northeast Ohio.

“While the information stings a little bit, I have to add a slightly worse sting,” Women’s Network President Kirsten Lino told the crowd. “In a community where we talk about the importance of this, we need to understand that our results rank more poorly for women than the national average.”

Lino said the study and call for advancement for women is not a “men-versus-women issue” and “has never been about pointing fingers.

"We want you present in owning the issue and help in moving the needle forward,” she said.

Some key findings:

• In Summit County’s private sector, women make up 10 percent of CEO or CEO-equivalent positions. Sixteen percent of these "C-suite" positions or equivalent are held by women and 1-in-89 is a woman of color.

• Women dominate in participation or employment in nonprofit organizations, with 73 percent of employees being women. But they disappear in leadership roles there, with 80 percent of the top 20 earners being men.

• Women represented on local nonprofit boards of directors remains unchanged from a similar study by another organization in 2014. Women still make up 41 percent of the boards with men making up 59 percent.

• In the public sector, women hold 37 percent of elected positions. On nonelected boards, they hold 43 percent of all seats.

• There is a wide range of gender diversity ratios in the public sector. Among mayors, only 1 percent are women. But women hold 66 percent of judicial seats in the county (that went up to 70 percent after Tuesday's election.) Women account for 12 percent of school superintendents countywide. They also hold 30 percent of all council seats and 40 percent of spots on school boards.

Women continue to earn less in Northeast Ohio.

Women leaders in Northeast Ohio's publicly traded companies earn 75 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. Nonprofit CEOs and equivalent earn 83 cents on the dollar.

That pay disparity translates into more than a $2 million difference over the lifetime of a median wage earner, the study said.

But there are glimmers of hope, Lino said.

The rise of women judges came as a result of a group of women many years ago who decided they were going to support each other, Lino said.

A lesson can be learned from that as too often, women are competing with each other, she said.

"If you don’t do anything when you leave today, will you please support each other? Rally for each other. Figure out how to get each other promoted. Go in to the workplace raving about your female co-workers," Lino told the mostly female crowd.

Attendees spent about 45 minutes at their tables discussing the study and solutions, which will be used by Women’s Network for its next actions.

The study results did not come as a surprise to Geraldine Hayes-Nelson, executive director of engagement, climate, outreach and records in the division of human resources at Kent State University.

“It’s tough to hear this because I’m also the president of the NAACP in Portage County. Coming from that perspective and being in this work for so long, it is really discouraging,” she said. “It not even ‘break the glass ceiling’ anymore. We have to push through our pain. It's painful when you get there. ... When you get there and you’re at the table and you’re the only female at the table, it is still difficult and you have not arrived. ... I’m a Ph.D. and I walk into a classroom and they ask where the professor is.”

Kristie Warner, co-owner of Gavin Scott Salon in Stow, said even in an industry that is so female-dominated, “we still see an issue with the top positions in the hair industry are all held by men."

Though discouraged by the study results, Lino said she was encouraged after hearing attendees' reactions and responses to the study and the conference.

“Every breakout session today gave a solution,” said Lino of sessions such as “Becoming an inclusive leader,” “Negotiation for women leaders” and “Men as allies: Supporting women and gender equality.”


Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or and see all her stories at