Women CEOs getting to the top

December 15, 2013

Women CEOs getting to the top

As I recently mentioned in a previous post, we conducted research on what it takes for women to succeed at the top of their organizations and earn seats on boards. And within days of our release, Mary Barra was named CEO of General Motors (Disclosure: we work for GM). A woman heading one of the world’s largest businesses is history-making and certainly no woman has ever led such a mammoth-sized company ever before (a Fortune 10 company). No one.

The news made me look back at our research to see what CEO-elect Barra had done with regard to our own metrics. On average, the Most Powerful Women in business (according to Fortune) in our research spoke at 2.1 conferences, sat on 2.6 boards and were awarded 1.2 awards/recognition over the 12 month period we audited (2012). Mary Barra spoke at 2.0 conferences, sat on 3 boards and had 1 ranking (Most Powerful Women from Fortune). She is ranked #29 in the 2013 Fortune listing. I’d say her credentials met the bar of what women need to do to break through the glass ceiling.

What interested me in particular about this colossal CEO transition, however, was a blog post by Pattie Sellers at Fortune who commented that with Mary Barra on the GM board, the automotive giant now has five women out of 12 members (now 42% female).  Sellers’ comments on how rare this figure is and refers to a report by Catalyst that found that only four Fortune 500 companies have boards with more than 40% women directors. The four companies are Estee Lauder, Avon Products, Procter & Gamble and Interpublic Group. Hey, I work at IPG and that made me feel really good. Even at Weber Shandwick, we have many women in leadership positions – when you look at Weber Shandwick where I work, over 40% (42.8%) of global leadership or our board of directors is female. That definitely beats the average and that makes me proud. This says a lot about the women I work with but the men as well.

 But let’s not get too carried away, the overall findings from Catalyst were dismal when you look across the business landscape. We have plenty of work to do:

·         Women held only 16.9% of board seats in 2013, no change from last year (16.6%)

·         In both 2012 and 2013, less than one-fifth of companies had 25% or more women directors, while one-tenth had no women serving on their boards

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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