Where is the female executive?
Where is the female executive?
December 10, 2013   //   Business   //   Comments are off

The past year may have been filled with reminders for professional women about the power of leaning in and the perils of opting out. But none of that has translated–yet, at least–into a significant increase in the number of women at the top of America’s corporations.

Catalyst, a nonprofit that advocates for moving more women into leadership roles, released its 20th annual census examining the status of women on corporate boards (the report has also charted the representation of women in senior leadership roles since 1996). This year’s report finds almost no movement in the ratio of female directors (16.9 percent, compared with 16.6 percent in 2012) or women in senior executive roles (14.6 percent, versus 14.3 percent in 2012). The results, said Deborah Gillis, Catalyst’s chief operating officer, can only be summed up one way: “Disappointing.”

It’s not just the percentage of women at the top that is stagnant; it’s also the percentage of companies that have no women at the top whatsoever, either among their senior ranks or on their boards. To put it another way, in many companies women aren’t even reaching token status in the boardroom. Ten percent of the Fortune 500 have no women on their boards–the same number as last year–and an alarming 27 percent of companies don’t have a single female executive officer, Catalyst reports, compared with 27.8 percent who did not in 2012.

“For a very long time, people have thought this will naturally take care of itself,” Gillis said, “that the best and brightest will rise to the top. But what the data tells us now is that without focused attention on making this a priority, it’s simply not going to happen.”

Some companies–if few–have succeeded at nearing a gender balance in the executive suite. Just 20 of the companies in the Fortune 500, according to Catalyst, have women in at least 40 percent of their companies’ executive jobs. At the top of Catalyst’s list is Frontier Communications, where women hold six of the nine, or 67 percent, of Frontier’s executive officer positions. Including Frontier CEO Maggie Wilderotter, women also occupy five of the telecommunications company’s 11 board seats.

Wilderotter said in an interview it hasn’t always been that way. When she became CEO, there was only one woman–the vice president of human resources–among the top 100 leaders in the company. “I wanted to have leadership that reflects the customer base,” Wilderotter said, noting that 60 percent of household decisions on telephone, Internet and video purchases are made by women. To get there, she’s required that managers bring in equal numbers of men and women to interview for every key leadership job. “I don’t coddle them, I don’t treat them any differently, but women need to have those opportunities.”

Yet with years of stalled growth for women at the top, the answer may require more than just sponsorship or better hiring practices. Wilderotter suggested that instead of the quotas many European countries have implemented, we might need some kind of public-private partnership that sets voluntary gender-parity targets and then calls attention to companies that don’t meet them. “In the world of business,” says Wilderotter, “we all care about measurements. We’re competitive about those measurements. And when you don’t have measurements, there’s a tendency to get lost in the rhetoric.”

In other words, there’s a role for shame. Business leaders, she said, “have a tendency to fix things when we’re below the average.”

-Source: The Washington Post