Women Moving Slowly Up Corporate Ladder

Discussion
Jul 27, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Women may have come a long way but they still have quite a ways to go when it comes to moving up the corporate ladder in Fortune 500 companies.


According to a study by a non-profit group devoted to expanding opportunities for women in business, women represented a small minority of corporate officer positions (16.4 percent)
in 2005. Only eight Fortune 500 companies had women CEOs and none of the top 100 had a woman in the role of chief executive.


Ilene Lang, president of Catalyst, the organization that conducted the study, it should serve as “a wake-up call to business leaders.”


In a press release to announce the study’s findings, Ms. Lang said, “Although the total number of corporate officer positions has declined since 1995 and women’s representation
has proportionately increased a bit, the continuing gender gap in senior leadership, especially among women of color, demonstrates a persistent uneven playing field.” (Women of
color held just 1.7 percent of corporate officer positions in Fortune 500 companies.)


Some fields of business with large representation of women in the workforce showed a higher level of top executives who were female. Among these were companies in the retailing
trade.


“Smart companies know that developing and retaining top talent yields solid results,” said Ms. Lang. “Women have the education, expertise, experience, and ambition to advance
to these top positions in much greater numbers. However, this census reveals that some companies have yet to understand the compelling business case for diversity and women’s
advancement or to take meaningful steps to develop and retain women leaders.”


According to Catalyst, greater representation of women in top positions has a direct correlation to bottom line results. Companies with the highest percentage of female corporate
officers delivered a 35.1 percent higher return on equity than those at the other end of the spectrum


“Leading by example, CEOs and upper management can effect tremendous change. The first step is to recognize the strategic business case for diversity and inclusion so that everyone
grasps the opportunity and understands what’s at stake,” said Ms. Lang. “Companies that proactively and successfully harness all their talent will sustain significant advantages
over competitors that don’t.” 


Discussion Question: What do you see as the primary factors behind the low representation of women in corporate officer positions within large U.S. businesses?


One reason the study cited as being behind the lack of women in corporate officer positions were the areas of the business from which they come. According
to Catalyst, 71 percent of women came up through organizations in departments such as human resources and public relations, while only 29 percent worked in jobs such as sales
and business operations.

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13 Comments on "Women Moving Slowly Up Corporate Ladder"


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Ron Bruce
Guest
Ron Bruce
14 years 6 months ago

Anyone investing in a company stock really doesn’t care who is at the helm. The question is, “Is my stock performing?” If it isn’t, go elsewhere.

Edward Herrera
Guest
Edward Herrera
14 years 6 months ago

There is an entire generation of highly qualified female leaders growing in our country today. How can we leave out 55% of the population from leading us into a new era in business and world affairs? We should reason this out together.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 6 months ago
There isn’t one answer; there are multiple reasons. (1) At the top levels decisions are difficult and people want to work with those with whom they feel comfortable. As stated earlier men feel more comfortable with men, (2) Top management does not put in the effort to figure out how to make diverse, “uncomfortable,” groups the norm, (3) Women (especially younger women) do not always believe that the playing field is not level, (4) Women still have the responsibility to figure out what to do about having a family – especially if they don’t want their children raised by nannies. These are all issues that can and need to be addressed. Eventually the workforce in the US will not be predominantly white and male so top management will be forced to figure out how to deal with diversity in their own decision making group. The companies who wait until they have no choice are missing out on fabulous opportunity. Companies that not only have diverse representation at top levels, but spend the time and effort… Read more »
Andrea Learned
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Andrea Learned
14 years 6 months ago
While a lot of this may still be discrimination, more and more women are watching as their friends design more creative/flexible lives – and they want in. If their company doesn’t allow for this, they will eventually bail out of their jobs, and build their own work/personal life. If there weren’t the tradition of a 9 to 6, the “have to work on-site” policy, and “we don’t trust you are doing your job if you don’t work within the usual parameters” issues – women would be right up there in all positions. In A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink writes about the six new “senses” people should be developing to be productive/successful in this new conceptual age (as opposed to the previous, information age)…which are all things that are in the non-linear, non-traditional realm (including story, empathy, design). When companies stop forcing information-age measurements onto the workforce, and allow for odd hours, at home offices, and more fitting productivity “measurements,” or more of a balance – THEN they’ll have happier and longer term employees of… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

The list of women being passed over for top jobs at the real boy’s club of America (retail) keeps growing. Vanessa Castagna (J.C. Penney and before that, Wal-Mart), Mindy Grossman (Nike)…the interesting part is where they end up. They’re getting snatched up by private equity players and companies that are making forward-looking multi-media plays. What does that tell you?

Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
14 years 6 months ago

Saying that women aren’t hanging around long enough to get top positions is, in my opinion, a cop-out (since we are talking about an issue that started rearing its head in the ’60s, might as well use ’60s terms). Maybe they aren’t hanging around long enough because there aren’t opportunities. Maybe the top talent then goes to industries where there are fewer obstacles to advancement. Businesses that promote and actually have diversity do much better financially. How can a business that excludes women from getting to the top rung of the corporate ladder understand their customer? Don’t women make up more than 50% of the population and don’t woman spend more dollars at retail?

To those who still put up barriers: Wake-up, this is a new century. Stop living in the past before you become passé and part of history!

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

The real wake-up call was the 2004 Bottom Line Catalyst study which showed superior financial results for businesses with greater diversity. Investors’ top priority: financial results.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 6 months ago
I think the primary factors behind the low representation of women in corporate officer positions is simply women choose not to pursue these positions. Men and women are wired differently. Both can effectively do the same job. However men are programmed at a young age to be success objects. Women are programmed to become sex objects. Men are conditioned to be more competitive. Men becoming successful in business is the grown man’s version of a 13 year old teenager showing off in front of the girls on his skate board. Men used success as a way to attract women. The only true way to test the success/financial value of men and women in the same position is to compare the incomes of self employed people. What are the average incomes by gender of self-employed lawyers, accountants, stock brokers, IT programmers, etc. My support staff is made up entirely of self-employed women. Why? They will do the same job, even a superior job, for less money than what men would charge me.
David Zahn
Guest
14 years 6 months ago
The question is, what are the primary reasons of low representation?…so here is my speculation: 1) Bias. Most leaders are men. As humans, we tend to want to spend time, work with, and interact with those that are similar to us, have common backgrounds, and interests. Therefore, men tend to prefer to develop and work with (and choose to replace them when the time is right) other men. Is it right…clearly not. But it is a bias that needs to be overcome. 2) Fewer women in the “launching positions.” As stated earlier, the departments that women congregate in more commonly are support roles and not “line” positions (at least not to the same ratio and extent as men). Therefore, they are not in the “on deck” position to be selected as a corporate leader. The issue here is as much about education as capabilities. Women are more often than men guided to the “helping” professions and asked to assume roles that more closely mirror the stereotypical gender roles. Once again, not as it SHOULD be,… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
14 years 6 months ago

Commitment starts at the top. More business leaders need to establish greater accountability within their organizations to increase representation of women in corporate positions. If the boss says to do more, it will be done.

I agree with Catalyst that these results should be a wake-up call to business leaders, and especially those in retail where women are the primary shoppers. Women want to know they are being represented in decision making in the companies in which they choose to shop. Yes HR and PR are traditional roles, but women can and do fill positions in sales, operations, merchandising, distribution and finance.

Talented women are out there in the workforce and attending colleges in greater numbers than men, so the companies that make a significantly greater effort to recruit, develop and mentor a diverse workforce will prosper in the long run.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 6 months ago
I’ve deliberately come in late on this one so I could see what everyone else said. As usual, now that I’m taking the leap, I think I’m coming from a different angle. My question is, why should there be more women at the top of corporate heaps (and I chose that word deliberately)? Is it a matter of principle to make men appear to be open and sensible? Is it a way to make men look better for letting women have a look in? Or are there people out there who really think women would do at least as good, if not a better, job than the men currently leading (this time I’m using the word advisedly) the industry? None of those reasons strike me as sufficiently convincing to persuade more women to compete with men that they may not feel any need to compete with. Actually, perhaps that’s the crux of the matter. Women don’t feel the need to compete on men’s terms. I know I never have and hope I never will. The… Read more »
John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
14 years 6 months ago

Ladder, top, big dog, commander, top honcho, boss .. ? Perhaps it’s a language problem. I think women will be what they want to be.

stéphane Blanchinet
Guest
stéphane Blanchinet
14 years 6 months ago

Women deserve their place at the top, no question about this. However, from experience and looking at many couples I know, it is sometime difficult to combine two very ambitious careers. It is possible, of course. However, it is also difficult in these condition to maintain a healthy couple or family life.

Maybe more men should be ready to climb the corporate ladder slower, take care of the kids and have a better integrated life. I really do not have an answer to this question….

But as a man, I have to admit my wife is smarter in what she wants from life and in her ambitions. Ultimately I am the one who ended up at the hospital exhausted and overworked.

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