12 Is Not Enough

July 10, 2008

Have you ever wondered what types of corporations are run by women in the Fortune 1,000 or the more prestigious Fortune 500? You would think with all the advances women have made thus far, more women would have jobs at these high-end corporations. This year Wal-Mart and Exxon — which, surprise, have male CEOs — topped the charts yet again. According to Forbes, women only account for 15.6 percent of 10,145 corporate officer positions in the Fortune 500. Even more shocking, there are only 12 women CEOs in the top 500 and 24 in the top 1,000, down from 25 last year. That is only 2.4 percent of the Fortune 1,000. Needless to say, the Fortune 500 is dominated by men.

More important are the types of companies these few women are running. When I first looked at these companies, I noticed that several of them seemed to coincide with gender stereotypes. Women are running companies in the food, retail, and beauty industries. Seven out of the 12, more than 58 percent, of the women CEOs in the Fortune 500 are in charge of companies in these industries. PepsiCo and its CEO, Indra K. Nooyi, are ranked 59 on the list, the highest among these stereotyped corporations.

Other such companies include Avon Products, primarily a cosmetics company, and TJX, the biggest clothing and home goods off-price retailer in the world. The top three food consumer product companies, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, and Sara Lee, all have women CEOs.

Over time the number of women in the top companies has grown, but when will women be able to overcome these gender patterns and prove they can run a company that does not produce clothing or food? Have women really made a dent in the glass ceiling? Is this just a coincidence that these companies coincide with these stereotypes? If women do not take the initiative to enter more nontraditional industries, then they will never advance in the Fortune 500.

According to an article from CNNMoney, it is hard for women to climb the corporate ladder because of how they are perceived. To overcome this obstacle, says Ilene Lang, president of the research organization Catalyst, “It isn’t women who need to change their leadership style, but organizations that need to mobilize and root out stereotyping.” Companies have implemented mentoring and leadership programs to inspire women to pursue executive jobs.

AAUW is combating these gender stereotypes by implementing the National Girls Collaborative Project, which opens opportunities for girls in science, technology, engineering, and math. AAUW works diligently to break through barriers for women, but what do you think is needed for women to achieve leadership among the Fortune 500 companies?

This post is by Michelle Gellman, AAUW Leadership and Training Institute Fellow.

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