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Women Still not Reaching in the C-Suite

  • One of my clients is in the employee benefits industry, so I try to make a habit of reading the HR trade pubs. As I flipped through one such publication this morning, an article jumped out at me. The title of the article is "C-Suite remains largely white, male" Okay, no big newsflash there, right? The thing that caught my eye was a subheading within the article: WOMEN HINDERED BY MOTHERHOOD. The article basically said that even though there is a growing trend for longer leaves related to motherhood, this time away harms these women's chances of ascending to the C-Suite. The full read goes on to talk about the lack of executive diversity in general, but I found it interesting that women are defined by their actions (having a baby, taking extended leaves) in terms of what is causing the inequality, versus other inequalities are linked back to external forces (ethnicity).

    I have to say, at first I was a little annoyed at the data. But then, I regained composure and it hit me: I don't even want to be in the C-Suite. We're not all Sarah Palin or Hilary Clinton. Some of us truly want work/life BALANCE. I've met very few C-Suiters who actually attained that, male or female. So, maybe I'm personally okay with this trend, because I'm not ready to delegate being a mommy just yet. It would still be nice to know that I could if I wanted to though...

    Read the full article here: suite-remains-largely-white-male.html?pg=

    What are your thoughts about diversity in the C-Suite?
    Flag as inappropriate Posted by BrendaG on 24th September 2008
  • I didn't read the article, but I just wanted to point out that having babies does not explain this phenomenon. If it did, then you would still see women in the C offices, but maybe a little older, or childless (there are lots of highly qualified women in the corporate world who don't have little kids).

    I'd also add that the male executives I've worked with have always had plenty of "balance." Sure, they travel and sometimes have to entertain in the evenings while their wives feed the kids at home. But they also coach their kids' little league teams, attend Boy Scout events, and make time to pursue hobbies with their kids on a regular basis. I worked for a single dad who hightailed it out of there several nights a week while I was left with hours more work to do, because he had promised to play chess or go shooting with his son, or left early because he was coaching his daughter's softball team. He took a full day off every semester just to take his daughter shopping for school clothes. Ladies, have you ever done that and gotten away with it? The sad thing is, these guys are revered as the greatest men around - like it's so impressive that a "father" would do some of the stuff a "mother" is expected to do with no appreciation. And while they are getting all these kudos, the working moms down the hall (their subordinates, of course) are being denied promotions because, God forbid their kids gets sick someday and they have to come in late or work from home.

    I am so sick of the "women have kids" argument. Does maternity leave have an impact? Yes. Is it a key reason that hardly any women are at the C level? No.
    Flag as inappropriate Posted by SKL on 25th September 2008
  • Good points SKL. I know I'm not the first person to say it, but women are less likely to ask for balance (or just take it). We're always afraid it will reflect poorly on us, and for good reason, evidently.

    I've noticed the double standard you reference first hand in our family too. When my husband stays home with our sick son, people say "wow, that's great that you're so involved." When I stay home with our sick son, people say "Oh, definitely, take care of that little guy, but are you still going to get your work done?"
    Flag as inappropriate Posted by BrendaG on 25th September 2008
  • MY C Suite is my home office, and I agree with you. I don't NEED a SUITE or title to make me feel valued.

    I saw much of this with a corporation my husband and I owned tho. I am a medical fraud investigator and certified medical auditor by education, so we would go into insurance companies for sales presentations. IF we were talking with a female it was NO PROBLEM. If it was a MALE, I would answer questions and they would look at TIM (hubby and President of Corp) to ask another question... GO FIGURE!!

    NOPE.... don't miss the politics one bit.... MY toughest part of the day is deciding to go walking outside after lunch OR to the healthspa... :)

    Linda/CMAS, BS, RN aka BizNurse
    Flag as inappropriate Posted by BizNurse on 25th September 2008
  • I think the lack of C-suite women has a lot of causes, but maternity leave is not one. I don't think that 6 weeks I took off when I was a 4-year experience employee put me behind my peers at all. And even if you are someone who takes 2-3 years off, there should be some women reaching the C-level at 56 instead of 53. . .not NOT getting there at all.

    I think it's really more of a who-is-in-the-pipeline issue.

    Here are some statistics regarding CEO education. . .slightly dated from 2005.

    -21% of CEO's in the S&P 500 have engineering degrees
    -15% have business administration degrees
    -38% have MBAs
    -29% have Masters other than MBAs
    -5% have accounting degrees.

    The percentage of women engineering students is around 20%. I saw a rough quote that about 35% of business students are women. . . and I would bet a lot of those are accounting or org mgmt majors, since that gets pushed onto women a lot (not that it's a bad thing).

    If I had more time, I'd dig up some stats on women engineering and business professors. I will tell you that I had exactly 1 female instructor as an undergraduate mechanical engineering student, and 1 female instructor in my MBA program. . .the HR course, wouldn't you know.

    Look around your companies. Who is in engineering, finance, sales? These are the future CEOs, and those groups are mostly men, right? If you look at a "class" of new hire engineers, and 15 are men, 5 are women, the odds of a man from that group being CEO some day are better than the odds for a woman. Women need to get on the right track from the beginning. It's hard to start as an HR recruiter and shoot for the top job. For that reason, we need mentors and professors in school who can tell us these things. I was raised by a SAHM/admin worker and a blue-collar father. I went to a "diverse" public high school where the top kids were ignored so the counselors could keep the at-risk kids in check. Choices need to be made very early to plan for a C-level career, and many smart women are uninformed about these choices.

    I have no daughters, but I am able to tell my much-younger sister how it is as a female in the business world. All of us have to learn the way, then show others. Of course, those of you who choose to start your own business have important things to show others too. Make your business big! Show girls that they don't have to have a small-town catering business (or whatever we're told is acceptable for women), they can start a technology business or whatever they want.

    Most importantly, we have to ignore these articles telling us why we aren't doing things and JUST DO IT!
    Flag as inappropriate Posted by allyson on 26th September 2008
  • Allyson, you make good points. My experience is in the accounting field where about 80% of people above staff level have CPAs, and most of the people at the top are CPAs (holding Bachelor's degrees) with no additional education or certification. Trust me, it's not that hard to become a CPA, and the men are no more likely to hold this certification than the women. So in my industry, the field of study is not a predictor of C-status.

    I agree that it's really a combination of reasons, but many of these can be addressed by the men at the top, if they are so motivated. What gets my blood boiling is how ready the "old boys" are to blame it on a gender-specific excuse. That means they have no responsibility to fix the problem, right?

    But on the point you made - the pipeline. One approach I've seen is for a company to fund a program that gets more minorities teaching certain subjects in grad schools. I don't know exactly how it worked, but supposedly it encouraged more minorities to pursue professions in those areas. Do you think there's a workable way to get more women in key grad school teaching positions, and if so, would this help in the long run?
    Flag as inappropriate Posted by SKL on 26th September 2008

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