24/7 Wall Street: For Women in the Corporate World, Not Much to Celebrate

March 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Money & Careers

At Women’s Voices for Change, we’ve often looked to Catalyst.org for insight on the challenges facing women in business. Like that organization, we’re often “aspirational,” focusing on the women who break through.  This astringent commentary, from Douglas McIntyre of the financial website 24/7 Wall Street, finds a different, more sobering lesson. We thought it was important to share the column, and do so with the author’s permission.

On International Women’s Day, women need to acknowledge the formidable height of the barriers we face, even as we celebrate women who overcome them. Here’s to a more encouraging report on International Women’s Day 2013.  –Ed.

It is International Women’s Day.  One of the hallmarks of the day is that women have used it to press for more equal pay and job opportunities. Research firm Catalyst, which follows the highest end of the women’s employment spectrum, has called for a better representation of females among the seniormost executive jobs and more board memberships at big companies. It will not happen.

A recent study by the research firm found that:

According to the 2011 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors, Executive Officers and Top Earners and prior Catalyst Censuses, women have made no significant gains in the last year and are no further along the corporate ladder than they were six years ago.

Not much was said in the “census” about what will happen six years into the future, but there is no reason to expect any improvement for women. There certainly has been no improvement in the recent past. Women held 16.1% of board seats in 2011, compared to 15.7% in 2010. They held 14.1% of executive officer positions in 2011, compared to 14.4% in 2010. The number of Fortune 500 CEOs that are women can be counted on one hand.

It is human nature now, and will remain so in the future, that those who hold power try as best they can to give up nothing. Boards and senior management positions at large companies have been held by men since the modern corporation became the dominant business entity in the United States. The top jobs pay the best. And top management has by far the greatest say in corporate direction. Top management and board jobs are controlled by old, white men. It would be nice to think that the women’s movement and federal legislation against discrimination have changed that, but they have not. The trend goes beyond large corporations to national politics and academia. No one with any sense believes that old, white men will give up the high ground. And so, the uphill battle to change the fortunes of women at large companies has yielded almost no ground at all.

It is International Women’s Day. For women who want to gain jobs at the top of big companies, there is nothing to celebrate.

Douglas McIntyre

The Wednesday Five: Chic Orange, Challenges for Corporate Women, and What’s on Susan Orlean’s Bookshelf?

January 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Tech

Photo: Tom Wachtel (Flickr)

This week, blogs pondered barriers for women in corporate America, peeked into the bookshelves of writers we love, and showed us how WVFC’s theme color can keep us warm in winter.

  • Last month, we covered (as did CNBC) a report from Catalyst.org about Catalyst about women on corporate boards. While that report made a media splash, Catalyst’s Deborah Gillis writes that her organization has recently focused on “the biases that persistently hinder the advancement of women in many workplaces.”   Women are just as ambitious and focused as men, she adds, but Catalyst’s most recent report, Pipeline’s Broken Promise, ” found that among MBA grads who aspired to be CEO or senior executives, women progressed more slowly than men. And parenthood, industry, and previous experience didn’t explain the gender gap. The leadership and pay gaps balloon over time, suggesting that the problem lies with the system, not the women. So what is the problem? Cascading Gender Biases, Compounding Effects revealed how gender biases are unintentionally embedded in talent management systems.”
  • Speaking of which, Amy Tennery at The Jane Dough reports that Nicole Williams, an exec at LinkedIn, told NPR’s Michel Martin  that such biases complicate the task of women seeking mentorship from male peers. If a woman does receive such support, Williams says, she can be shadowed by unspoken questions: “Is she getting the career advancement by virtue of the relationship and instead of her hard work?  I do think that there’s a double standard around women seeking out men for support.”
  • WVFC got pretty excited when Pantone, the color people, declared 2012 The Year of Orange, our signature color. And this week, Heather Clawson’s Habitually Chic dreamed how we can use that color to warm up our winter: “My love of orange is no secret.  Especially burnt orange. I saw a space so beautifully decorated with the color yesterday that it inspired me to put together another little compilation inspiration post.  Enjoy.” Her photo gallery includes glowing windows, many men’s ties, pottery,  luggage,  and a very Modernist cover of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.
  • When you go to someone’s house, do your eyes focus first on their books? Journalist Jill Bauerle does, and wondered what the bookshelves of writers she loves were like. The result, Stacked Up, is a bibliophile’s dream that includes many WVFC BFFs, such as a visit to a Mary Gaitskill reading in Brooklyn and a hilarious video profile of The Freewheelin’ Susan Orlean, the latter sniffing her old Faulkner paperbacks for “that old paper smell.” We also learned yesterday that the video segments will soon be on WNYC-TV, so you’d better click over so you can be there first.
  • As awards season really kicks in, Melissa Silverstein at Women & Hollywood is keeping score about how many women are nominated; she found much to celebrate in last week’s Producer’s Guild noms. Silverstein was especially struck by the ones with Oscar implications: “Kathleen Kennedy is nominated for both best feature (War Horse) and best animated feature (The Adventures of Tin Tin).” But the awards, like the Golden Globes, also include TV, which gives us even more to cheer — including Christine Vachon (whose movies include Far From Heaven, Boys Don’t Cry and I’m Not There) for the acclaimed and somewhat underrated HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce. Watch below if you doubt that there was any more to be made of that 1940s potboiler: you’ll get chills.


Executive Suite: No Women Allowed

The cover on Catalyst's 2011 report on women in corporate America.

Women in mid-life who have chosen to be part of corporate America continue to face unprecedented challenges, with a daunting economic environment that puts not only their opportunity for moving into senior management at stake but often their jobs as well. They rarely have sponsors who will bring them up through the ranks simply because they are the brightest, the most collegial, the hardest working, or the ones with unique perspectives that could keep their companies more competitive. They are blocked by prejudice against women and minorities in most of the executive suites at America’s largest companies. The lack of opportunity for women to ascend to the seats of power in these companies is a clear demonstration that meritocracy means little in the Fortune 500.

Women continue to be underrepresented in the most powerful positions in our society. Recent research underscores the fact that this situation shows no sign of getting any better. The 2011 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors and Senior Management“examines women’s representation in corporate governance and senior management at the largest companies in the United States. This annual report provides critical statistics to gauge women’s advancement into leadership and highlights the gender diversity gap.” A separate Catalyst report, entitled 2011 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Executive Officers and Top Earners looks at women in executive and highest-earning positions.

In 2011, women held 16.1% of all board seats. In 2010, women held 15.7% of all board seats. Women held 14.1% executive officer positions this year and 14.4 % last year. 136 of the Fortune 500 companies have no women in senior management even though women are often the primary consumer base for these companies. Bed Bath and Beyond, Citigroup, Costco, Direct TV, Dole Foods, Exxon, Levi Strauss, Omnicom, Delta Airlines, Rite Aid, Sara Lee, Sears, and Sprint are just a random sample of these corporations. The list of all 136 can be viewed on the Catalyst website.

Four of these companies that have millions of female customers are Costco, Citigroup, Omnicom and Delta Airlines.

Costco has 596 warehouses (stores) with 64 million card holders (members) and revenue of $89 billion. Out of its 161,000 employees worldwide, there was no woman found competent enough to occupy any of the top five management slots for this retailer that depends on the loyalty and purchasing power of women. How is it possible that a company that relies on women for a very significant part of its sales has no woman in the executive suite? The top five men at the helm of Costco received a collective $14 million dollars in compensation for 2010 alone.


On the Citigroup website, the company reports that it has 200 million clients in over 100 countries. That client base certainly includes a substantial number of women. In its mission statement Citigroup states that one of the four values that guide the company is leadership, defined as “talented people with the best training who thrive in a diverse meritocracy that demands excellence, initiative and courage.” And out of the 267,000 Citigroup employees, not one woman could be found who had the talent to break through their glass ceiling? The top five executives at Citigroup made a total of $32 million dollars last year.


Omnicom is one of the world’s largest ad agencies, operating in 100 countries with over 5,000 clients and 66,000 employees. They own the major ad agency BBDO Worldwide and the PR firms Fleishman-Hillard and Ketchum. Omnicom ad agencies’ clients include VW, McDonald’s, Clorox, and Johnson & Johnson. Many, perhaps most, of the customers for these products are female. The PR firm Fleishman-Hillard (owned by Omnicom) made the annual list of top 50 companies for executive women chosen by the National Association for Female Executives. The CEO at Omnicom alone made $10.7 million dollars in 2010, and the top five executives collectively brought home $23 million dollars. Maybe the National Association for Female Executives should push for a woman to become one of the top five at Omnicom.

Delta Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the world, serves more than 160 million customers a year with 80,000 employees world wide. At least half of those customers are women. Women were good enough to be flight attendants and more recently allowed in the cockpit, but still have not been given access to the rarified air of the executive suite. The top five executives at Delta made a total of $21 million dollars last year.

Women have few advocates in the board room, and individual shareholders have no say over the composition of senior management. Senior male executives ultimately determine the fate of other managers at their companies.

If we want to see competent women in leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, we have few options. We can contact the members of the boards of these companies, or perhaps contact the executives of the companies. But most of all, women can take their business to competitors that demonstrate a willingness to put women in leadership roles.

We need to be outraged on behalf of the women in our age demographic in these companies. Society changes from the top. If women are not considered competent enough, are not valued for their talent and determination, or deemed to work as hard as men do for the same goal, then women at all levels of our society will continue to suffer.


Last week, Catalyst’s CEO discussed the report with CNBC, including its findings about the proven effectiveness of including women in corporate boards.

(VIDEO) The Wednesday Five: Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Hollywood’s Power Execs, New Answers on Pay Equity and Thinking Twice About Crop Tops

October 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Newsmakers

Photo: narice28, Livorno, Italy (flickr)

This week, blogs marked Domestic Violence Awareness Month, shared intriguing studies on pay equity and women & development, and listed some maybe-questionable attire for women over 50.

  •  We’ve spent a lot of time here on Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but Miranda Spencer reminds us at Women in Media and News that October is more than that. “Less reported is October’s other “ribbon” issue, domestic violence (DV), which has had its own Awareness Month since October 1987 to connect those who work to end violence against women and their children. [Domestic violence] statistics are even more devastating than breast cancer rates. A woman has a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of having breast cancer, whereas 1 in 4 women (and 1 in 13 men) will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and an average of three women in America die as a result of domestic violence each day. Add in psychological and economic forms of abuse that can follow even after the DV victim leaves the perpetrator – including physical and cyber stalking and even identity theft – and we’re talking about a preventable menace that could use a lot more public awareness.” Click over for the rest, and think about wearing a purple ribbon next to your pink stuff, at least.
  • While we’re considering what to wear, Gerit Quealy has some thoughts on what not to at Style Goes Strong. Among her “5 Things Not to Wear After 50” are micro-minis, complicated lattice heels, and crop tops: “You may have the greatest abs of your life, but showing them off in a crop top doesn’t show them to their best advantage. Helen Mirren revealed her admirable belly in a bikini and you still wouldn’t catch her in a crop top. In fact, a bikini is a better option. Or workout wear at yoga class. Gwyneth Paltrow’s ensemble at the Emmys exposed her midriff and she took a lot of heat for her choice — and she’s just 39.”  We’re guessing that WVFC’s Eleanore Wells, for one, will take issue with Quealy’s list: do you? Click over and see if you agree, and let us know in comments.
  • Are you sick of hearing from men, discussing the severe gender gap in pay in the business world, how “it’s women’s choices” that explain the inequality ? At Harvard Business Review, Christine Silva and Nancy Carter of Catalyst  can help you fight back. Sharing results from their most recent study, which tracked nearly a thousand MBAs across the country, Silva and Carter write: “The problem isn’t only a late-career phenomenon by which women are denied the big promotion after having advanced steadily alongside men. Rather, the entire pipeline is in peril. More particularly, our research has managed to explode four prevailing myths about the progress of women in workplaces.” In addition to the one about women’s choices, they found that you can’t blame the recession or lack of mentoring, or the one about the gap disappearing as women rise up the pipeline.  “Major interventions are required to build a robust pipeline of women leaders,” Kimberly-Clark CEO Thomas Falk told Catalyst in a meeting reported on at HBR.
  • Why do women hate development? That question was put to WVFC recently after Infrastructurist reported on a different kind of study, a national poll from a poll by the Saint Consulting Group.”The poll results — which come from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,000 people done in June —  indicate an interesting divergence in priorities between men and women when it comes to industrial growth,” writes Melissa Lasky. “Just about any type of project that comes with potentially negative environmental consequences — natural gas pipelines, nuclear power plants, quarries, malls — received much stronger support from the men surveyed than the women, usually with more than a 10% difference. (For example, 50% of the men said they’d support a new power plant in their community while just 32% of women said they would.) And across the board, men were uniformly more open to development than women.” She cautions us that these findings “aren’t a blanket statement about gender and urban development,” but it left us thinking about power in towns and whether some concrete ceilings  need shattering along with the glass ones.
  •  When we saw the title “Hollywood’s Top Six Women,” we thought we’d see a list of actors. But in Third Age’s slide show, only Oprah has put in time in front of the camera — and she’s included less for that than for her producing prowess. Others include Disney’s Anne Sweeney and “50-year-old Stacy Snider [who] has been a major player in Hollywood for decades, previously climbing to the top spot at Universal Pictures, where she was chairman, and responsible for making much-loved movies like Erin Brockovich and Meet the Parents.” In honor of Snider, this week’s W5 video also celebrates fellow midlife women  Julia Roberts and Erin Brockovitch herself, who probably contributed to the skepticism among women that we mentioned in the previous item.