Women at the Top

Very cool stand-alone section in last week's Wall Street Journal --The Fifty Women to Watch 2007 Report.

Fortunately, I got the report before my nine-year-old daughter blacked out the front teeth and added curly mustaches on the women's 50 smiling faces.

Here's the good news:

* The women range in age from 32 to 61, across industries, countries and ethnicities.
* Some have been stay-at-home moms, some have stay-at-home husbands, some have no children -- a diverse set of successful juggling acts.
* Several started at McDonald's and as lowly "assistants" or entrepreneurs and made their way to the top through hard work and talent alone vs. educational or family connections.
* Women at the top are mentoring other women to be their successors.
* The Wall Street Journal, 2.7 million circulation, devotes a stand-alone report on women in business every year.

And now the bad stuff:

* Women still hold only 16.4 percent of Fortune 500 corporate office jobs (vice president or higher positions that require board approval)
* This number has increased only 0.7 percentage point since 2002, according to Catalyst.
* Women make up only one-sixth of corporate directors.
* Every day the majority of Wall Street Journal ink is devoted to men's accomplishments (and failures).

And finally, some pointers on how they got there:

"Women still have a tendency to see work as a beauty contest. We want to be well-liked. But a strong leader focuses on doing a good job and doesn't worry about pleasing everyone. You have got to be decisive and make things happen." -- Carol Realini, 53, founder of Obopay

"I don't care how old you are, you're always looking for someone when you need help, and there is always somebody that's been there before you. And you'd better pay it forward, meaning you reach back and you help someone else." -- Michele Coleman Mayes, SVP and chief legal officer, Allstate

"We all need to learn to have the courage to bring up issues that may be hard to bring up. When you look at where women have gotten in the workplace and the pay inequities that still exist in a lot of industries, I think we have to take the bull by the horns and ask about that very directly in our companies." -- Mary Sammons, chairman, president and CEO of Rite Aid

Do you work for a highly successful woman? Aspire to be one of them? Are one of them? What work/family advice helped you get to where you are today? Let us know the view from inside.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  November 28, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Moms in the News
Previous: Mothering from Scratch | Next: A Crash Course on Workplace Re-Entry


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I DO work for a highly successful woman who made VP for a large multinational company prior to turning 40. No I don't aspire to be "her". (Thanks to Leslie for wording men out of the conversation again today.)

I will say that while single, she shows a tremendous compassion for work/life balance issues affecting the women and men that work for her.

Having said that she's quite an aggressive personal persona. More aggressive than most of the men who work here. I wonder if having a child would have "softened" her personality a little bit and therefore would have slowed her professional rise?

The "softening" observation is not a sexist one. Many of the Dads in here in management, myself included, are much less of the go-getter harda$$es we were before the kids came along.

Posted by: ProudPapa15 | November 28, 2007 8:16 AM

In both of my jobs, I have worked for VP who are women. Both had grown children and husbands who worked. They also both worked crazy hours (I guess that's a given at that salary range).

I would love to be one of them, but I doubt that would happen. I don't plan on having kids, so that's not holding me back. I just don't have that "balls to the wall" mentality. And I don't have a business degree, and I don't really want to manage people. I like being a cog. But it would be super cool to be a good role model and to break stereotypes. Oh well, maybe in my next life.

Posted by: Meesh | November 28, 2007 8:47 AM

Providing a counter to PP's first post, I used to work for a woman supervisor who was the exact opposite as far as work/life balance.

She had no problem pulling the "I have to go home for my children" reason for missing a meeting herself, but when it came to others, well, since she wasn't going then they had to go in her place. As long as HER work/life balance wasn't affected things were just fine, but she had no problem rearranging the schedule of anyone working for her (without considering THEIR work/life balance) to keep her own situation the way she wanted it.

Posted by: johnl | November 28, 2007 8:47 AM

What johnl said.

Posted by: chittybangbang | November 28, 2007 8:58 AM

My first supervisor was a woman who had chosen to never have children and dedicate herself to her career. She worked insane hours and didn't tolerate anybody who didn't. She was particularly hard on the women who came to work for her, often telling them that there was the 'mommy with a part-time job' track and the 'career woman' track and they needed to decide which track they wanted to be on. She was not as hard on the men, I think because she expected us to all be on the career track due to gender.

Unfortunately for her, she's in an engineering career field and you just can't treat most engineers like that. It's a supply-and-demand thing; job opportunities for talented female engineers are plentiful and they don't have to take that rubbish if they don't want to. And most of them don't want to. So this supervisor was gradually eased into positions of less and less responsibility until she finally retired.

Posted by: m2j5c2 | November 28, 2007 9:06 AM

Well I'm not holding my breath for a kinder, gentler Wellpoint, health insurer, just because a woman heads it up.

How about she use her position to see that women's health issues get equal billing and that insurance be affordable for the majority of women who are earning .7 of what men earn?

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 28, 2007 9:07 AM

I work for a fabulous woman right now. Her children are mostly grown but she continues to be sympathetic to those of us still in the trenches with our kids. She's a great role model in terms of what you can do with life/career AFTER your kids fly the coop.

That said, I worked for a man who left early, came in late or otherwise took time off because of kids/household duties etc.
When he asked me to work overtime on a weekend after I'd barely seen my kids all week and I hesitated, he had the balls to ask me whether I was really committed to my career. So you can get the same cr*p from male bosses and female ones.

Posted by: anne.saunders | November 28, 2007 9:35 AM

anne.saunders's report is somewhat consistent with my experience:

"So you can get the same cr*p from male bosses and female ones."

Gender of the boss is a less significant indicator of interest in balance than is the boss' situation. If the boss is married and has kids, he/she tends to be sympathetic to work/life issues and supportive of taking time to deal with them. If the boss has no kids, and especially if the boss is unmarried, he/she tends to be unsympathetic to work/life balance issues, regardless of gender.

And of course there are always exceptions, like the one Anne identified - a good boss can manage anything; a bad boss can screw up anything.

Posted by: m2j5c2 | November 28, 2007 9:53 AM

"And of course there are always exceptions, like the one Anne identified - a good boss can manage anything; a bad boss can screw up anything. "

An unhappy boss, regardless of gender or marital status or has kids, is usually the worst boss.

Posted by: chittybangbang | November 28, 2007 9:57 AM

Might we possibly have a discussion about high-powered women without immediately degenerating into a debate over whether women bosses are good/bad/more receptive to work-life balance/career-driven ballbusters who have no respect for boundaries?? I was actually really interested in the topic today -- how did these women manage to succeed, why aren't more women at their level, is it internal/external, what kind of advice helped them, etc. But instead we immediately get into the same old discussion about how great/horrible women bosses are.

I would really like to hear from high-powered women like this -- what helped them succeed, if they have husbands and kids how did they manage everything, etc. Because I'm only working @ 80%, and I already feel like that's about the limit. Or, well, I guess it's more accurate to say that the tradeoffs aren't worth it for me -- I get to have dinner with my kids and not have to work most weekends, and the extra money that full-time would mean isn't worth it.

But maybe that's the difference between me and these women: my goal for my job is not to be bored -- I work for the intellectual challenge, not for power or status or because I feel like I need to prove something to the world. So I can get that in a reasonable work day. But maybe if you have that kind of overwhelming drive to be in charge, to want to run things, to have the power or the career recognition or whatever it is, then getting to that position is worth those kinds of tradeoffs.

Posted by: laura33 | November 28, 2007 10:08 AM

Laura (ever the voice of reason) wrote: "my goal for my job is not to be bored -- I work for the intellectual challenge, not for power or status or because I feel like I need to prove something to the world."

Some, maybe even most, of us (regardless of gender) lack the sort of driving ambition that people at the top of the employment often possess. We simply plain don't care so long as we have just enough materially to feel comfortable in our lives -- admittedly this level varies (but is a lot less for some of us than for others).

Posted by: mehitabel | November 28, 2007 10:30 AM

P.S. And just remember, s/he who dies with the most toys is nonetheless dead.

Posted by: mehitabel | November 28, 2007 10:32 AM

I've always worked for non-profits, which tend to attract people who are as interested in quality of life issues as in career success, so I've always been surrounded by women and men who are fabulous role models for being both highly successful in their careers while also recognizing that there are some things in life that are more important than your job. That said, I've also had some complete nut-job managers who go into non profit work thinking it'll be an easy job where they can slack off and not have to compete in any way. They tend to not last long as managers.

In my last job interview I was completely honest with the "where do you see yourself in five years?" question. I'm happy where I am now in my career. I don't have any driving ambition--I like having a job that is just challenging enough to keep me interested every day, but not so consuming that I can't go home at the end of the day and forget about it. And now that I've recognized that this is where I need to be at the moment, I'm much more content overall. The fabulous bosses I've had in the past have shown me that you don't have to reach the pinnacle of your career at age 35. I still have a good 30 years until retirement--plenty of time to aim higher if I want to, but not right now when my family is young.

Posted by: sarahfran | November 28, 2007 10:55 AM

To Laura's point....lets see if I can post something a little more in the spirit of the larger discussion.

I work for a company with a large percentage of female senior managers and executives (or, at least I perceive the number as large because there are very few ethnic minorities in those positions). As an ethnic minority, I have taken an interest in what the common thread seems to be in the women that have climbed the ladder.

There are the obvious things - intelligent, well educated, good communicator, professional demeanor and dress....

But then there is the non-obvious - Personality Type A.

I think people have raised this in the context of bosses and work/life balance because it is relevant to how the woman came to be a sr. mgr/exec in the first place.

For better or worse, my (very non-scientific) observation is that there a few, if any, unqualified (dead weight) females carrying the Director/Partner/VP/CXO title. They all seem spectacularly qualified and because they are all Type A, it is obvious that they are knowledgeable. They aren't shy about delivering the "right" answer to a group of people wrestling with a question and making no progress.

My 2 cents.

Posted by: ProudPapa15 | November 28, 2007 10:57 AM

I have to agree with Proud Papa. All the female bosses that I have had are pretty much type A, with one exception, and unfortunately, the exceptional one was not as effective as the others, in part because she cared too much about what people thought of her. I personally liked her a lot and had no trouble with her, because she left me alone and let me do my work without micromanaging me, but she was too nice, and some people walked all over her and got away with it. Some of my other type A female bosses I did not like so much, because they were either unreasonably demanding or because they were just unpleasant on a personal level, but they were smart, ambitious, and driven, and that seemed to get them pretty far, regardless of their personalities.

Posted by: Emily | November 28, 2007 11:17 AM

I am the boss of six people. In my experience, the worst bosses have been female. Luckily, for my employees, I am a great boss. As long as their work gets done, I don't care if they do it from the office or from their house. They can tell me anything and know that I will help them the best I can. I am, admittedly, on the low end of the managerial rung, but it's still not bad for a coal miner's daughter from northeast Ohio. It does help too that we were all friends before I took the job.

Emily,

Isn't it about time for you to have the baby.

Posted by: Irishgirl | November 28, 2007 12:11 PM

Hi Scarry,
How's it going with the new baby? Mine is due on the 4th of December. She is breech, so it will be a C-section (unless she turns first). So unless I go into labor first, the 4th is going to be a big day in my family.

Posted by: Emily | November 28, 2007 12:18 PM

I work in a stereotypically woman's profession (nursing), and have almost always worked for high-powered women, particularly in the Navy. Most of my superiors have had to choose between kids and career unless they had a SAHH, which was rare. And I've always been the one tapped to work extra or take on an additional project because I have no children. Frankly, I resented it. But I always did as asked. I've also learned from it, and now that I'm the one people work for, I spread the good and bad around. And make things as flexible as possible for non-work commitments, whether they are kids and family, or baseball games.

Posted by: babsy1 | November 28, 2007 12:33 PM

I once went to a talk at our work aimed at networking women. This very successful women said
"People often ask me how do you do it? Have enough time for a family and a very successful career, My answer is You Can't. You have to make sacrifices".
I liked this as I feel it gets to the heart of the matter. Life is about choices and consequences of those choices. I am happy to be where I am in my position at work, knowing that my home life is satisfying, but for that to be the case, my career may take a hit. Such is life.

Posted by: hendryp | November 28, 2007 12:49 PM

I work to stay challenged and, I hate to admit this, to force myself to interact with people. I'm so introverted by nature that the idea of organizing play groups or other regular social activities for myself just sounds like torture. I love my work, I like the people I work with, and I enjoy getting paid. But I have absolutely no desire to be a Fortune 500 anything (sorry Leslie) or to devote my life to further the cause of "women in (fill-in-the- blank)". I want to have a brillant life, not a brillant career. And I honestly feel that the problem isn't with me, it's with all the people out there that would rather work 60 hours a week than spend time with their family, friends, pets or doing something nice like reading Dickens, gardening, exercising, or whatever. I've worked for some very successful people but I wouldn't trade my life for theirs even if it came along with a Nobel Prize and Bill Gates' money. If I ever manage to be a smashing success at something it will have to be within the boundaries of a 45 hour week, 3 weeks of vacation, and the ability to live wherever I darn well please.

Posted by: pinkoleander | November 28, 2007 1:07 PM

I think the problem with many female managers is that they identify themselves AS female managers. Instead of just managers or VP's or directors or whatever.

Whether or not you are a woman or a man, you have to make the same hard decisions when you get to a certain level of business. Ones that may cause people to be hired or fired, ones that may cause a lot of disruption or smoothing out in the workflow, but will always cause at least one person to dislike you.

Your job as an effective manager or steward within your company will cause you to be disliked on occasion. Accept that and moved on.

I'm not saying you have to be masculine - you just have to get a thicker skin, and stop considering yourself as a female executive and just be an executive. I can assure you, the men in the room are quite aware that you're a woman, but that doesn't mean they automatically think less of you as a professional.

Society has advanced enough that women are not automatically negated in the boardroom anymore - so just act like you belong there instead of acting like you were allowed in there, and you'd be surprised how well you're accepted.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | November 28, 2007 3:02 PM

There's nothing sadder, to me anyway, than attending a women's networking conference and hearing a high-level executive say she only had one child because she didn't want to damage her career with another pregnancy, and that now she wishes she'd had more time with her daughter before the girl was grown up. But I had to thank that Executive VP for her honesty before I went home and hugged the stuffing out of my boys.

I deliberately took myself off the management track 13 years ago, and I've never doubted it was the right decision for me. I wanted my evenings and week ends to belong to DH and 'da boyz' (although - full disclosure - there was only one boy at that time, and little or no chance of having another child.)

I was told by my supervisors that they were required to reduce staff, and that in two weeks they'd be laying off one of my people. I was to keep this information to myself, but needed to know who I would be losing so I could plan my team's work schedule. The same day, the guy who was about to lose his job came to talk with me about buying a condo in the small SF Bay Area town I was living in. It was horrible - knowing he was about to become unemployed and that buying a condo was the worst thing he could do - not being able to say anything.

There were other incidents before that, like being told I had to give a staff member a review that wasn't as good as I felt she deserved. But the layoff I couldn't announce was the proverbial straw, and I just couldn't be responsible for others' livelihoods and career progress.

I'm very, very good at what I do. As an 'individual contributor' my coworkers and managers value my work and come to me with problems no one else can solve. But when the clock says it's time to go home, I'm out that door, and everyone expects that and respects it.

I like to think that my example is making it easier for younger women choose which compromises will best suit them, and not automatically get caught up in the 60-plus hour weeks and climbing the corporate ladder, which I saw all my role-models doing 20-plus years ago.

Posted by: sue | November 28, 2007 3:22 PM

I agree with proud papa and chamosaur -- we really need to take gender OUT of the equation -- people with drive, ambition, and a willingness to compromise other aspects of their life will rise to the top of the corporate ladder. The type A personality and/or raised oneself up by the bootstraps background helps too.

Regarding the comment about woman managers wanting to be liked my favorite boss of all time was the type of person who wasn't afraid to advocate an unpopular idea and see it through to acceptance/rejection and who demanded respect up and down the chain of command. That she was a woman is tertiary at best...

Posted by: tntkate | November 28, 2007 3:49 PM

The WSJ article mentions an up-and-coming generation of very capable young women. I, for one, am eager to see what they do, what choices they make and what options are open to them. I hope balancing family and work doesn't require so many "sacrifices" -- because that would be hopeful news for my growing daughters.

Posted by: anne.saunders | November 28, 2007 3:49 PM

If somebody is a type A personality, she (or he) is that way everywhere, at work, at home, with friends. I wonder how these women manage to control their type A's in situations outside of work and not try to be the perfect mothers and spouses and super career women at the same time. I feel very bittersweet when I see women like that. Bitter because it could have been me -- circumstances have put me in a position to chose a "mommy track" job. And sweet because I think I thank G-d I can go home at 5 and check my kids homework or take them to an activity and not have to fly to London the next day for some presentation.

Posted by: tsm | November 28, 2007 4:09 PM

Women are to emotion and dingy to lead large corporations that daddy didn't leave to them.

Posted by: subsidy | November 28, 2007 5:48 PM

From my experience, there are two major obstacles for women getting upper-level jobs in large organizations and both of them are due to the way women and men are raised/trained in today's society. The first is the economics of employment. Men are more aggressive when it comes to negotiating salaries, more likely to go into fields that are guaranteed to make a lot of money and more willing to spend more time at the office if it means a higher salary. Women, on the other hand, rarely see more money as the goal of their job. Once we are making enough to live the way they want, we start asking employers for other types of compensation - telecommuting, better benefits, health club memberships - things that will improve our quality of life. So when that big promotion comes up, the one that involves 60 hour work weeks and a significant bonus, men are more likely to jump at the chance while women are more likely to forgo longer title in order to preserve our quality of life.

The other problem is that women have the mentality that we live in a "man's world," so we need to bow our heads and pay our dues until someone notices how excellent of a job we're doing. This may have been true in the 60's and 70's, when women still had to prove we belonged in the workplace, but now most companies are used to having women around, and are much more likely to promote the ones that are assertive, stand their ground and demand recognition.

My current organization is run by women - All but one of the managers is female and most of the staff is as well. We always complain amongst ourselves that the men get treated better than the women - they go home on time most nights, get yelled at less, have smaller work loads. However, I've noticed that the men are getting this special treatment for one simple reason: they ask for it. They call out my boss when she asks for unreasonable overtime. If she asks them to do a huge project on top of their other work, they tell her they can't do it. They ask for raises and promotions and their annual reviews on time. Consequentially, they get all of these things. The women, on the other hand, keep our noses to the grindstone, work late most nights, work weekends, get swamped with projects that we can't handle and don't get reviews, much less raises.

After noticing this pattern repeat itself over and over, I started to assert myself - tell my boss when I couldn't take on more work, start to leave on time, (gasp!) take vacation days. And you can imagine my surprise when it started to work. At the same time, when I tried to explain all of this to my boss, she suggested that it was a bad idea, that I should keep my head down and know that one day, eventually someone will begin to recognize how hard I'm working and how well I do my job. I just have to put up with the abuse until then.

It's 95% mental ladies, and it's in the minds of the women.

On a related note, I found a good article about the different generations of women and how we treat our careers. http://tinyurl.com/22syt7

Posted by: fifirouge | November 28, 2007 6:39 PM

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