Starting in 1996, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau among other data sets, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research launched its Status of Women in the States report series, which looks at numerous metrics that relate to the economic achievement, poverty, physical and mental health, education, work and family, violence and safety, reproductive rights, and political participation of women. When IWPR released a national study on the status of women in 2015, Florida earned an overall grade of D+, and ranked 36th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Surprising many, the highest grade Florida received was a C in Reproductive Rights; the lowest, a D- for Work & Family—which measures family friendly policies, among other data, within the state.

In the 2015 study, Florida ranked 45th for women’s participation in the labor force (though in a 2018 update, that rank slipped to 48th), and 43rd for the percentage of women employed in managerial and professional occupations (45th in 2018). Florida consistently ranks in the bottom third of states for having family-friendly employment policies, which include affordable child care, paid family and medical leave and sick days, pay transparency, and flexible scheduling. Florida also has more non-elderly uninsured women than any other state.

Against this challenging backdrop, IWPR was commissioned by a group of women’s foundations, community foundations, and women’s giving circles who came together to form the Florida Women’s Funding Alliance (FWFA) and was tasked with taking a deeper dive into these metrics and breaking them down to the county level. Over the course of 2016 and 2017, three reports were produced: The Status of Women in Florida by County: Poverty & Opportunity, The Status of Women in Florida by County: Health & Wellbeing and The Status of Women in Florida by County: Employment & Earnings. These reports were published statewide on the websites of their numerous funders, were widely publicized, and garnered a good deal of media attention both because of the granular level of detail and the overarching headline about the barriers to women’s success in Florida.

In June 2016, The Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Initiative (JWLI), a broad and diverse group, was formed by volunteers to raise awareness about women’s leadership issues and provide opportunities to help women achieve their full potential. Composed of women’s organizations, philanthropists, and local leaders, its membership expressed strong interest in the areas of mentorship, data and research, and the importance of engaging men to advance women’s advancement in the community.

The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida (TCF) agreed that JWLI’s body of work warranted deeper examination. In 2018, TCF (a founding member of FWFA and a partner in their statewide research) convened 14 local women’s organizations—now known as the Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Coalition—to look at addressing perceived gaps in women’s leadership in business and government in the region; the subject of research was raised once again. What if the gaps were only perceived? They knew from prior research about the seemingly intractable issues of women in poverty in Florida, but perhaps professional women and executives were doing just fine. At the very least, a baseline should be established. Due to the recent series of reports on women in Florida, IWPR was asked to write a report on women’s leadership in northeast Florida, looking specifically at both business and government and to cover six counties: Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns.

The report begins with a literature review covering both academic research and studies by corporations and consultants that correlate good business outcomes with diverse leadership (starting on page 2 of the report). The report then turns to the data analysis and, through interviews with women at five NE Florida-based organizations who work with their company’s women’s employee resource groups, captures what is working particularly well in mentoring women and bringing women into leadership positions.

The report concludes with recommendations for businesses, policymakers, and philanthropy in the following topic areas (see the full report for more details on these topics):

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  • Enacting family-friendly policies such as paid family medical leave and paid sick days, flexible hours, pay transparency, and prohibiting asking candidates for jobs about their prior salary history.
  • Actively recruiting more women to C-Suite positions, boards, and for political campaigns.
  • Identifying funding sources for women entrepreneurs.
  • Increasing access to high quality, affordable day care.
  • Implementing institutional reforms that ensure that political parties recruit and support women candidates.
  • Improving access to mentors and sponsors for women in both business and politics.
  • Expanded access to education and training for women in business and government.
  • Creating a sustainable network of women’s organizations.


If we had to assign a social media tag to this report, it would likely be “#itscomplicated.” Quite a few of the metrics show progress; however, the vast majority need attention. Fortunately, there is now a coalition of women’s organizations willing to step up and work on solutions. This will require taking action including strategic investing, smart policies, and public relations campaigns that focus on bringing awareness to the community to drive the necessary changes. It will also require an annual assessment of progress from this baseline study. Further, engaging male allies to help frame and shape the case for change is an important step. Alignment of strong support from the business, philanthropic, and government sectors can create the opportunities for growth that the members of the Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Coalition wish to bring women of northeast Florida.

Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Coalition

The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida

Key Findings

The findings in this report present a picture of the landscape for women in leadership, and the barriers they face, in northeast Florida. The report shows that:

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  • Women graduate from high school and college at higher rates than men, preparing them for advancement to leadership positions, but are not transitioning into leadership roles either in business or in government at the same rates as men.
  • The share of businesses owned by women in Florida has increased in recent years. Women-owned businesses, however, are significantly underperforming compared with men-owned businesses, due in part to a lack of access to capital.
  • Florida ranks 45th (out of the 50 states and District of Columbia) for its share of women in professional and managerial positions, which are generally well-paid jobs that require a four-year college degree. Among the northeast Florida counties, the share of employed women in professional and managerial positions ranges from 38 percent in Clay County to 44 percent in Putnam and St. Johns counties.
  • Board diversity among publicly held companies in northeast Florida is low, with several companies having no women on their board of directors. Two companies, however, (TIAA and Adecco) have near parity on their boards.
  • The share of CEOs and legislators who are women in Florida is slightly higher than in the United States overall (26 compared with 25 percent). Florida ranks 16th in the nation for its share of CEOs and legislators who are women.
  • Women in northeast Florida lag far behind Florida men and women in other parts of the state in STEM jobs and careers. Fewer than 1 in 20 women work in this sector, which offers many well-paid jobs.
  • The gender pay gap persists in northeast Florida and, in Florida overall, means women earn $2.8 billion less in a year, which has an enormous impact on their income and spending power. The pay gap for Black and Hispanic women is even larger.
  • The gender gap follows women throughout their lifetime and into retirement, making them relatively less well off than their male peers at all ages.
  • As in the United States overall, women in Florida are more likely than men to register to vote and to cast a ballot.
  • While the representation of women in elected and appointed office varies widely by county and office in northeast Florida, women are still underrepresented when it comes to holding office.
  • Women in northeast Florida are severely underrepresented in law enforcement, with only two police chiefs—including the first ever female African American police chief in Jacksonville—and one department head who are women across all six counties.



Women have made significant progress in recent years in employment and education: women have increased their labor force participation rates, now earn the majority of college degrees at every level, and make up more than half of all workers in managerial and professional occupations. The share of women in leadership roles in upper-level management, board, and C-suite positions has also increased, along with the share of women in government. In the 2018 elections, more women ran and were elected to national, local, and state offices than ever before (Center for American Women and Politics 2019a).

Though women have made significant progress, they are still underrepresented in leadership roles—both in business and politics—in the United States. While women’s representation in corporations made modest gains in recent years, it remains quite low (McKinsey & Company and Lean In 2018), and women still make up less than 25 percent of elected officials in Congress (Center for American Women and Politics 2019a). This underrepresentation is indicative of the barriers women still face when attempting to advance to leadership positions—barriers that impact women’s career trajectories, earnings, and economic security across their lifespan.

To assess how women in Florida are doing when it comes to advancing to leadership positions, The Status of Women in Northeast Florida: Strengthening the Pipeline for Women’s Advancement to Leadership begins with a discussion of the benefits of having diversity in leadership and analysis of data on some factors that can contribute to or hinder women’s advancement to leadership positions, such as their educational attainment and the occupations in which they work. The report then examines women’s representation across a range of leadership positions in Florida, including corporate C-suites, publicly held corporations, higher educational institutions, unions, and government offices, among others. Through interviews with representatives from five organizations in northeast Florida, the report also highlights some local efforts to address obstacles to women’s advancement to leadership positions.

The report focuses on the six counties of northeast Florida—Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns—and compares data, where possible, to Florida and the United States overall. It identifies the areas in which women have seen progress as well as the areas in which more work is needed, and concludes with recommendations for policymakers, advocates, businesses, and philanthropists.

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