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									      Advancing Women
        to Leadership:
What’s Gender Got to Do with It?

              Robin J. Ely
          Harvard Business School

    Committee on the Concerns of Women
               June 2, 2006
                                   The Status of Women in
                                        Corporate America
The Good News:
• Women comprise 50% of managerial and specialized
  professional positions.

• 85.8% of Fortune 500 companies have at least one
  woman corporate officer.

• 12% have women filling 1/4 or more of their
  corporate officer positions, a 100% increase since
Source: Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners in the Fortune 500, 2002
                                   The Status of Women in
                                        Corporate America
The Bad News:
• In Fortune 500 companies, women comprise:
     • 15.7 % of corporate officers
          • Only 9.9% of line officer positions
     • 13.6 % of corporate directors
     • 7.9% of the highest titles
     • 5.2% of top earners
• Women of color fare worse:
     • 2% of board seats in Fortune 1000
     • 1.6% of corporate officers in Fortune 500

Source: Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners in the Fortune 500, 2002
                                  Are Skills the Problem?
• 2000 Study - 170+ senior leaders
   - Women rated higher on operating with energy and intensity, setting high
      performance expectations, meeting commitments, and aggressively
      pursuing goals and pushing for results.
• 1996 Study - 915 executives
   - Women outperformed men in 25 out of 31 specific leadership skills.
   - Women rated higher in, e.g., maintaining high productivity, generating
      high quality work, meeting deadlines and commitments, driving for
      results, and generating new ideas.
• 1993 Study - 5300 leaders
   - Women rated higher in leadership practices of “encouraging the heart”
      and “modeling the way.”

  No, skills don’t seem to be the problem.
                                 A Conundrum

• Women are seen as successful in employing a
  broad range of specific leadership skills and
  achieving positive results.
• Yet they are not being promoted into top
  leadership positions.
 What explains women’s lack of advancement?
                                               Barriers to
                                     Women’s Advancement
What women executives say:

                              •41%                                      Female Executives
                                                                         Women Executives
                                                   •33%                  CEOs


       Lack of GM/line       Exclusion      Stereotyping & preconceptions
          experience       from informal         of women’s roles and
                              networks                 abilities

 Source: Catalyst, Women in Corporate Leadership, 2003
                                                    Barriers to
                                          Women’s Advancement
What CEOs say:




                  Lack of GM/line                        Failure of senior leadership
                  experience                              to assume accountability

 Source: Catalyst, Women in Corporate Leadership, 2003
                                      Barriers to
                            Women’s Advancement

What the media say:
• Successful, high potential, women are “opting out.”

• They opt out because they want to be at home
  devoting themselves fully to parenting:

   • “They leave more easily and find other parts of life
     more fulfilling.”
   • “They don’t want to do what it takes to get [to the top].”
                                             –Belkin, NYT, 2003
                                  Barriers to
                        Women’s Advancement

What the research shows:
• Of 570 business women surveyed, 72% reported that it
  was important for them to be influential leaders; 47%
  aspired to be in the top leadership positions of their
• Men are rated higher on leadership “potential.”
• In top accounting firm, men and women reported 70%
  probability of accepting leadership role if offered; 47%
  of women and 68% of men offered a leadership role.
                                             Barriers to
                                   Women’s Advancement
What the research shows:
• Re women entering elite colleges and universities in 1976:

    • 58% never out of the job market for > 6 mos.
    • Spent total of 1.6 years out of the labor force.
    • Only 7% spent more than half of their time out of labor force.
    • 87% were married; 69% had at least one child; total of 2.1 yrs not employed.
    • 50% with children never had non-employment lasting > 6 mos.
    • Stuck with their specialties to same degree as men.

• Little has changed re educated women in their 30s today:

    • 80% are employed in full-time work (75% in late 30s married).
    • Having babies later.
 • BUT, they still earn less and work more around the house!
                                  Barriers to
                        Women’s Advancement

What the research shows:
• Organizations are gendered; they reflect men’s values
  and life situations.

• Gender inequities are subtle and pervasive, embedded in
  work norms and practices that appear gender-neutral on
  the surface, but affect men and women differently.

• Result is many micro-inequities that, when aggregated,
  can inhibit women’s potential to claim leadership roles.
                                    Case Example

The Gender Equity Problem
• By early 1980s, 50% of new hires were women,
  proportion of women partners about 10%.
• By early 1990s, proportion of women partners still about

The Business Problem
• Diluting the quality of the partnership.
• Gender gap in turnover. Women @ 26%; men @ 15%.
• Cost of turnover/employee: 150% of annual compensation.
                                         Case Example
• Women leave to raise their families.
• Over 70% of the women who left were still employed full time one
  year later.
• Another 20% were working part time at other firms.
• Fewer than 10% were at home with small children; they intended
  to return to work in near future.
• Work environment was male-dominated.
• Limited opportunities for career advancement.
• Work/life balance difficult to establish.
                                   Case Example

Gendered evaluation processes
• Re her: “She’s not polished. Her ___ skills aren’t
  strong enough.”

• Re him: “I looked like that 5 years ago, and I grew
  into it; he’ll grow into it. He has tremendous

   Notice it; challenge it; change it.
                            Case Example

• No nepotism rule.
  No supervision rule.
• Never say “no.”

 Legitimize challenging the value of
  developmental assignments.
                                    Case Example
Time spent at work = commitment.
• Face time required of everyone.
   Just get the job done; supports.

Gendered client assignment process.
• Women assigned to “pink collar” areas.
• Men assigned to high potential areas.
   Annual assignment reviews to ensure
    equity among high performers.
                                   Case Example

• Moved from 8% women in partnership to 21%.
• Turnover among women dropped from 26% to 15%.
• Increased freedom of expression, creativity.
• Offered better people, better service to clients.
• Attracted new clients.
• Ranked 8th on Fortune’ list of The 100 Best Companies
  to Work for in America.
• Constituency of high potential women equipped with
  knowledge and skills to push for constructive
  incremental change.
                                    Making Change

Diagnosis: Make visible norms and practices
contributing to subtle gender bias; investigate costs to
  women and to effectiveness.

• How do people accomplish their work?
• Who succeeds and who doesn’t?
• What work is valued, rewarded; what work is invisible?
• What are norms about time?
• How is competence defined?
                                   Making Change

Change: Institute policy and operational changes,
including “small wins.”
• Undertake incremental changes in work practices and
  behaviors that interrupt established norms and

Talk, talk, talk: Use small wins as occasions to
challenge old stories and create new ones.
                                 Making Change

Leadership, Leadership, Leadership:
• Communicate your vision.
• Model behaviors.
• Share success stories.
• Make the business case.
• Debunk myths.
• Create accountability and measurement systems.
• Use diagnosis as opportunity to learn.

• Many assumptions about women and leadership are
  not based in reality.

• Many work practices and cultural norms that appear
  gender-neutral actually disadvantage women and
  reduce effectiveness.

• Surfacing assumptions and differential impact of
  norms and practices creates opportunities for change
  that benefit women, men, and the organization.
                                          Final Reflections

Metaphor for 21st Century Organizations
• It is not simply a “glass ceiling” that is holding women back,
  but the whole structure of organizations: the foundations, the
  beams, the walls and the very air. It is all around us in our
  assumptions and norms about work, leadership, and how we
  practice it.

• This approach asks leaders to be thoughtful architects not just
  to dismantle the glass ceiling, but to reconstruct organizations,
  beam by beam and room by room, with work practices and
  norms that are more effective for our organizations and more
  equitable for women as well as men.
                                 Meyerson and Feltcher, Harvard Business Review, 2000

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