Women have risen rapidly in the business arena, but not quickly enough. The 2012 ranking of Fortune 500 corporations includes a record 18 companies headed by female CEO’s. This new high, however, translates into just 3.6 percent of the companies being led by women. If we take a positive view, we could interpret it as good news, because in 2002 and 2003, there were only seven Fortune 500 firms that had female CEO’s. Although we are moving, it is at a snail’s pace, and we have not made significant gains.
Another concern as noted in a Catalyst report in December of last year is about one in ten companies had no women serving on their boards. Furthermore, women of color still held only 3% of corporate board seats. Another fact, most of us know is that women earn less pay for men in comparable jobs and held only 7.5% of executive officer top-earner positions in 2011, while men accounted for 92.5% of top earners.
We now have to ask, is women’s leadership truly stalled and is anything being done to train and prepare a younger generation to take the reins of the larger corporations? There are definitely a larger number of younger women in the pipeline and on the career ladder to lead the top corporations. Let’s look at Marissa Mayer, the new CEO at Yahoo, and a perfect role model. The first woman engineer at Google, she was the driving force for most of their popular products. It is interesting to note she was six months pregnant when they chose her to lead the struggling company. Just a few years ago, this would have been unfathomable. Fortunately, there are more young women such as Mayer who are ready to step into leadership roles.
Where can look for a trend? Try the business schools. Although they are certainly top heavy in male deanships, they are moving in the direction of selecting more women to lead the schools as noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Appointing women as deans has a positive value in many arenas; they have authority and contacts in the business word, they attract more women students, and they are living examples for the female students how women can influence the business world. As Linda Livingstone, dean of Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management noted, the increasing number of women deans, just like the presence of women executives in the corporate world, “helps [students] to see the kind of things they can do and where they can go.” According to Fortune executive editor Stephanie Mehta, “The good news is that while we have 18 today, there’s a pipeline of women coming into leadership positions that’s very, very deep and very, very wide.”
As women, we must strive for parity and equality and continue to educate. With so many bright young women moving up the corporate ladder, this is the time for the business world to take every opportunity to enable them to move to the top rung. This includes both Fortune 500 and non-Fortune 500 companies. How wonderful women will be able to choose. Let me know what you think.