The 2012 listing of the Fortune 500 includes 18 female CEO’s in 2012. After a few years of a decreasing number of women at the top of organizations, this is great news for women, whether you are already near the top of the ladder in your company, or you are someone who is just starting out in a firm. This upward trend provides additional role models to follow, as well as reason for an increase in optimism that women can reach their career goals.
While 18 is a small number relative to the total number of companies, the number has doubled in the last decade. In 2002 and 2003 there were only 7 women CEO’s in the Fortune 500 companies. There were 15 in 2010, but it went down to 12 in 2011 with the loss of Brenda Barnes of Sara Lee, Christina Gold of Western Union, Susan Ivey of Reynolds American and Mary Sammons of Rite Aid, and the addition of Beth Mooney of KeyCorp. There are an additional 17 women in the next 500 top companies. And as was recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, there is a growing pipeline of senior female executives right now that are poised to take on the role of CEO. Some experts expect the number of female CEOs to double again in the next 5 years.
I’ve also come across some research written about by Bob Sutton, a professor I took a class from at Stanford, talking about how men and women are perceived, and the impact that it has on their progression to becoming leaders of organizations. Males are seen as the strong leaders naturally, and everyone is used to them heading up big companies. There are studies done on the behavior of powerful men and women participating in conferences, meetings and even in the political arena, and it has been shown that powerful men talk more than powerful women. According to surveys, most powerful women think that if they talk more, their likeability will drop. Women have a tendency to want to be liked, and so they use their charm to win people over. Women are also concerned about men’s egos, and they will take extra efforts to make sure that they do not step on others ego. They will hold back from coming across as too domineering and too powerful, which further exacerbates the problem of how women are perceived in organizations.
With all of this, it seems like it will continue to take more effort on the part of women to reach the top of the company than their male counterparts. Women need to do more to prove that they are worthy of the top position. They need to do other special tasks outside of their office work to make sure that they continue to enhance their skills and add more to their knowledge, in an effort to prove that they can handle whatever tasks they will be given when leading the company. There is also this delicate balance of being perceived as powerful and in charge, while not pushing people away, turning people off, and losing the ability to be in control. I know this goes both ways, in terms of how women react to men, and men react to women, but I think by at least acknowledging that these factors are at play, we can each be more aware of how we act and respond in specific situations.