Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

by Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD

The Wall Street Journal devoted an entire section in Monday’s paper to “Women to Watch” – 50 women whom the WSJ believes “have the potential to make a significant impact on business in the year ahead.” The section includes plenty of stories about women at the top and the challenges they face, along with videos and podcasts. It appears that most of the content is available to non-subscribers.

WSJ has published “Women to Watch” for the past three years, and the paper deserves kudos for paying serious attention to the talented and hard-working women who have achieved such enormous success. From the editor’s note: “[We] believe women should be singled out, that their experiences, their potential – and the obstacles they face – deserve to be examined on their own.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Now let’s get to the bad news: The number of women at the top of the corporate pyramid is barely growing. Women make up a little more than 16 percent of the corporate officers at Fortune 500 companies; this has changed very little since 2002. The percentage of women who are among the top five in overall compensation at the same group of companies is only about 6 percent. That figure has not moved much either.

But there is some hope. According to WSJ Senior Editor Carol Hymowitz, who wrote a well-researched story, women are no longer relegated to the expected retail and cosmetics businesses and have moved into the highest levels in operations and long-term strategic planning in almost every industry – many considered until very recently the domain of MEN ONLY.

Six women were invited to participate in a panel discussion moderated by Hymowitz earlier this month. In transcripts and video available online, these women engage in honest discussions about juggling work, family life, and time for self. They make it clear that none of them lead so-called “balanced lives.” And they point out that confidence and the ability to remain calm during crises are essential for leadership and for the success of the company.

These women offer great advice to women in middle management and to younger women. In response to the question, “What holds women back?” Nancy Peretsman, managing director and executive vice president of Allen & Co., said, “I think we don’t do a good enough job saying that at the end THIS WAS WORTH IT.” (Emphasis mine)

She continued:

We need to get out there and say this is possible. This is a great life. Stand up and be counted. Be involved because these kinds of perches and jobs really allow for an extraordinarily rich and varied experience. We have to get out there and recruit, too.

And I think when we do and say this is possible, this is worth it, these are great careers, hang in there, we may see more women willing to go through what is inevitably going to be a rocky time to get to the other side.

Laura Desmond, CEO of Starcom MediaVeset/the Americas, added:

We’re here in large part because a lot of phenomenal women did a tremendous amount for us in the 1960s and 1970s. Think of Title IX — that watershed moment that allowed girls and women to compete in sports in school. Or equal rights and equal pay. We haven’t built on that legacy.

So two things we need to do is be role models and release the burden of balance — this idealistic notion that you can have it all or be it all. That is a dialogue only women are having. Men are not having that dialogue.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the list is that most of the women are in their late 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. In the business world, many of the men who are the top are very young. The founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergy Brin, are both about 30. The heads of companies like YouTube and MySpace are often in their 20s. The media buzz about “companies to watch” seems currently to be dominated by young men.

This WSJ list is primarily made up of women who worked their way up through the ranks and spent two decades or more getting to their present jobs. Marjorie Scardino, head of British publishing giant, Pearson, is a good example. So is Anne Mulcahy of Xerox. Andrea Jung, Avon CEO, and Patricia Russo, Lucent CEO, also fall into this category.

The “50 Women to Watch” is not a list of overnight successes. It is a list of accomplishment; executives tempered by making the long climb but exhilarated by their place at the top.

Patricia Yarberry Allen is an obstetrician and gynecologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital and is on the board of Women’s Voices for Change.

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  • Phyllis August, MD, MPH November 27, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    It is somewhat interesting to look at how women in academic medicine are faring. I recently gave a workshop on ‘Becoming a Clinical Scientist’ at the annual nephrology meeting, and did some research and discovered (no surprise, just confirmation) that whereas women are now 50% or more of incoming med students, only 4% of the full professors at medical schools are women, and even fewer at top positions such as dean, CEO. We have a lot of work to do here, both in making it possible for young women to see academics as a viable career option, and also in breaking some of the usual barriers. I also tried to communicate to these young physicians that it is worth it – it’s an exciting, gratifying, and challenging career.