Women’s Aspirations to the Corner Office

September 29, 2006

Women’s Aspirations to the Corner Office

This week has been chock full of women and work themes. At the beginning of the week I was lucky enough to join a panel at IPG, my parent company, as we begin building a women’s network. I was even more fortunate to hear speakers’ Ilene Lang from Catalyst and Fran Rodgers from Families and Work Institute at the meeting. Since I was speaking in Dallas at a corporate event on women CEOs, the information was timely.

In my own research, one study stood out. Catalyst conducted a survey in 2004 on women and men executives’ aspirations to be CEO. They found that both men and women have equal aspirations to reach the corner office, whether or not they had children. Both men and women executives also have similar strategies for getting there — exceeding expectations, successfully managing others, seeking high visibility assignments and demonstrating expertise. Interestingly, they experienced similar barriers — not conforming to the company culture, lack of line experience and lack of awareness of organizational politics.

However the unsettling difference that did arise between men and women executives was that women endured a set of cultural barriers such as gender-based stereotypes, exclusion from informal networks, lack of role models and inhospitable corporate culture.

These gender-based stereotypes facing women surfaced in many global surveys that have been done around the globe. As Ilene Lang at Catalyst says, this global research finds that men are perceived to be better at “taking charge” and women at “taking care.”

Gender stereo-typing is subtle and not meant on purpose. When I mentioned this to a group of young women executives here in Dallas, they nodded in agreement.

The lesson I learned from this week’s immersion in women executives climbing the corporate ladder is that we still have work to do on fixing the workplace.

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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.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 14:34h, 07 November Reply

    Like many women who reach the glass ceiling mid-way through their career, I’m thinking of opting out of the corporate world altogether. I keep reading about how we need to change the system, but with fewer than a dozen women at the helm of the world’s Fortune 500 companies, it seems to me the pace of change is at a crawl that I’m simply not willing to tolerate. If the people in charge, who happen to be mostly white men, really want changes that make it possible for women and other minorities to rise through the ranks, they would do so — but they aren’t. Its funny — GE spends millions on its CSR activities and is regarded by many as an employer of choice. Yet the rate of change of women rising into sr management levels is virtually at a standstill if you read its latest sustainability report. If they can’t engineer genuine equality, who can? I fear women will never get the equal treatment they are entitled to by Corporate America, at least not in my lifetime.

  • Mora Balandran
    Posted at 05:48h, 21 April Reply

    This is a very nice article – thanks for sharing.. definitely going to bookmark!

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