We've all heard discouraging statistics about the lack of progress for women in the workplace. In fact, women hold only 4.2 percent of CEO positions in America's 500 biggest companies.

The good news is that there are concrete steps business owners and leaders can take to improve gender diversity in their organizations, including:

  • Increasing personal recognition of female leaders
  • Understanding the power of stereotypes
  • Fostering an inclusive culture

The suggestions are part of six recommended steps included in a new gender diversity study among Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. The study, Transforming the C-Suite: Developing and Advancing Women Leaders, was produced by Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in collaboration with the Fortune Knowledge Group.

“This study shows that organizations with high proportions of senior female leaders also tend to have stronger financial performances," said Sharon Solomon, managing director and U.S. head of Client and Marketing Strategy at RBC Capital Markets. “While other studies have also come to this conclusion, gender diversity at the most senior levels continues to be a challenge for businesses. It's an issue we must draw attention to and one the business community must address."

City National Bank's Karen A. Clark, senior vice president and multicultural strategies manager, points out that the Nielsen Company reported in 2013 that women in the U.S. had roughly $5 trillion in purchasing power. And according to a 2010 report from The American College Today, 45 percent of the millionaires in the U.S. were women.

Additionally, because women typically live longer than men, it's estimated that nine out of 10 women will eventually take charge of their families' wealth.

“Business managers, owners and shareholders should care about these statistics, because attitudes about women and engagement with women in the workplace can determine a company's share of the female purse. Without women firmly ensconced in the decision-making process about products and services designed for and offered to women, companies stand to leave money on the table," Clark said.

Additional key findings from the RBC study include:

  • Only 21 companies in the 2016 Fortune 500 list include women at the helm, down from 24 in 2015.
  • Gender diversity in management, and specifically women in leadership roles, enhances corporate financial performance.

Read the full report.

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