‘Being a car guy right now isn’t the best thing, because the car guys drove it over the edge.’ -Dan Akerson Genesis Photos for The Wall Street Journal
In the executive suite, the idea is no longer even controversial. When McKinsey & Co. asked senior executives at 60 big companies recently why they are trying to advance women, “they laughed at us,” says Dominic Barton, McKinsey’s global managing director. The common response, he says: “Are you kidding?” Almost nine in 10 CEOs agree that tapping female talent is important to “getting the best brains” and competing in markets where women now make most of the purchasing decisions, the McKinsey study says.
“They drove it home again and again,” Mr. Barton says, citing a CEO’s quote from the study: “The only sustainable competitive advantage is talent. How could you not consider half the world’s population?”
So why are we still talking about this?
That was the key question at last week’s Women in the Economy conference, convened by The Wall Street Journal. At the conference, some 200 top leaders in government, business and academia gathered with a mission: to come up with a plan to make better use of female talent to promote economic growth and competitiveness in the U.S. and world-wide.
The need for such a plan was clear. For one thing, companies are still bleeding female talent at an alarming rate. Women land 53% of entry-level jobs and make it to “the belly of the pipeline” in large numbers, McKinsey found. But then, female presence falls off a cliff, to 35% at the director level, 24% among senior vice presidents and 19% in the C-suite.
Managers at Google Inc. must invest extra effort to persuade women engineers to nominate themselves for promotions, Laszlo Bock, senior vice president, people operations, said at the Journal conference. All employees are encouraged to nominate themselves for promotions, he says. Men jump at the chance, often before they are ready, and are often turned down.
But women must be prodded: “For God’s sake, nominate yourself for promotions. You’re holding yourself back,” Mr. Bock says he tells female employees. Women who finally step up usually get the nod: “By the time a woman says she is ready, she was probably ready a year ago.” In the end, the company promotes women engineers at about the same rate as men.
Barriers to women “are deeply intertwined, making them even harder to eliminate than we had thought,” McKinsey says, based on detailed data from more than 50 companies that opened up their records for a deep look at the pipeline. Women lack sponsors to advocate for them, and leaders often assume they won’t want tough assignments. About half the women surveyed by McKinsey are both primary breadwinners and primary caregivers to their families, and many tend to avoid jobs that bring greater pressure.
‘The more hours of television a girl watches, the fewer options she thinks she has in life.’ -Geena DavisGenesis Photos for The Wall Street Journal
Academy Award winning actor Geena Davis talks about the perception of women as seen in the media and about what has and has not changed in the past sixty years.
Women who advance often raise their hands for “ugly jobs” in line management where they “take on the challenge” and prove themselves in a visible way, says Beth Mooney, chairman and chief executive of KeyCorp, a Cleveland-based bank. But the McKinsey study shows women in general opt at far higher rates than men for staff jobs, sometimes labelled “the pink ghetto.” Some 50% to 65% of women at the vice-president level and higher are in staff jobs, compared with only 41% to 48% of men.
High-ranking female role models are scarce, and they are tough acts to follow. Among senior managers, “the women who made it through are Olympians,” Mr. Barton says: “83% of them had families, and they were doing line roles” in management. “Many of them said, ‘I was the one who turned the lights off every night.’ ” Only 17 of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, up from 12 last year.
‘It’s the willingness to take the ugly job, to fix the thing that’s not working.’ -Beth Mooney Genesis Photos for The Wall Street Journal
Even well-intentioned executives tend, often unconsciously, to dismiss women’s contributions. At Ernst & Young, where 23% to 26% of leadership teams internationally are women, CEO James Turley told the WSJ conference that he was running a meeting years ago when “three or four women said something I wasn’t paying attention to. Then a guy said something similar and I said, ‘That’s a really good point.’ ” Afterward, a female executive took him aside and said, “You probably have no idea what just happened,” he says. He hasn’t made the same mistake since.
Many diversity programs offer only mentoring or networking among women who all face the same tough odds. This has bred cynicism. Even when CEOs promote diversity, only 54% of employees believe it, McKinsey says.
The gender gap is even wider for women of color. Among African-American employees, both men and women express an above-average desire to advance to the next level; McKinsey found 81% of men and 86% of women saying they want to advance, compared with 74% of all men and 69% of all women. But far more black women believe those aspirations will be dashed: Only 35% think they will have a chance to move up, compared with 41% of all women. In stark contrast, black men feel even more empowered than whites: 49% believe they will move up, compared with 43% of men on average.
Women’s growing clout is lending urgency to the issue. At General Motors Co.GM +0.63% , CEO Daniel Akerson says he believes 60% of car-buying decisions are made by women. On the GM board, where four of 12 directors are women, he’d like to see a more even split along gender lines. “I know I will be criticized for this,” he said at the conference, but he believes women often “have a higher emotional quotient, and they deal with change, radical change,” well.
The waste of talent hits closer to home in the professional-services sector. About half of medical-school graduates are women, medical-school data show. But only 4.38% of practicing neurosurgeons are female, says Gail Rosseau, a neurosurgeon and a director of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. “If you’re having brain surgery, wouldn’t you want your neurosurgeon to be the best and the brightest?” she says.
There is evidence that the U.S. is losing ground. Women are making huge strides in emerging economies such as India and China; in India, 12% of chief-executive slots at the 250 biggest companies are held by women, based on research by Sylvia Hewlett, president of the Center for Talent Innovation.
At The Wall Street Journal conference, members of its Executive Task Force on Women were asked to recommend next steps. In two days of working sessions, working groups produced a set of tools for organizations and individuals to use in removing obstacles to women and minorities.
Like any “tool kit,” not all the tactics will be useful for every company or organization. But all share a goal of improving competitiveness—not by giving women special career tracks or entitlements, but by creating a fairer meritocracy. Underpinning all the groups’ work was a sharp focus on identifying high-potential employees early, rewarding performance, setting rigorous goals and metrics and holding leaders accountable.
Here’s a closer look at the Executive Task Force working groups and their top four recommendations:
Voices from the Conference
‘There are times when you have a huge project, you have quarterly earnings, I don’t care what it is. And you are focused. You say to your family, “I’m not going to see you much this week or this month.” And then when you go home, put the iPad away, the BlackBerry down, and be there. Don’t be half anywhere. Be there. Wherever you are, be there.’ -Carol Bartz, Former CEO of Yahoo and Autodesk Genesis Photos for The Wall Street Journal
Carol Bartz sits down with WSJ’s Alan Murray and discusses her time as chief executive of Yahoo, her conflicts with the company’s board and how best to communicate in business.
There is no such thing as a balance that allows equal time for work and play, says Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo and Autodesk. She explains what has worked for her when it comes to juggling career and the rest of your life.
A TOOL KIT FOR THE ORGANIZATION
It Starts at the Top: Engaging the C-Suite
1 Enlarge Strategy Meetings. Include emerging midlevel leaders, including 50% women, and provide opportunities to collaborate and make presentations.
2 Set Goals and Measure. Hold senior managers accountable by tying promotion and compensation to meeting diversity goals and requiring regular reports to the board.
3 Audit the Culture. Examine assumptions about how women leaders are “supposed to behave,” and help managers understand the view from women’s seats.
4 Sponsor from the Top. Have senior vice presidents and other top leaders, rather than direct managers, nominate diverse talent for leadership development and visible roles.
Many companies advance women simply by adding seats to the executive committee, McKinsey found in its study. This working group endorses also inviting high-potential middle managers to strategy meetings, giving them a chance to make presentations, collaborate with others and “break down the silos” between departments, says Debra Lee, chairman and CEO of BET Networks and a co-chair of the working group.
No company can make much progress without engaging the CEO; this group advised setting diversity targets and holding senior executives’ feet to the fire. “You get what you inspect,” says working-group co-chair Teresa Sebastian, a senior vice president and general counsel at Darden Restaurants, and executives whose “pay or promotions are at risk” are more likely to change. Also, Ms. Lee says, CEOs should “call out wrong behaviors” by others. “We call that, ‘Men who are behaving badly.’ ”
One of the most oft-endorsed tools at the conference was sponsorships—strong relationships in which a senior executive advises and advocates for a promising lower-ranking manager. This group endorsed “skip-level” sponsorships, advising C-suite executives to sponsor protégés two levels below them. This sidesteps a common obstacle—an immediate boss who feels too threatened by a talented subordinate to be a good sponsor, Ms. Sebastian says.
Making the Bet: Potential in the Pipeline
1 Embed Performance-Based Triggers.Create a high-performance culture by embedding performance-based prompts and processes at key decision-making points.
2 Create a Culture of Sponsorship. Show senior leaders what’s in it for them, and “bake it” into executive pay.
3 Set Holistic Programs. Diversity initiatives should encompass sponsorship, mentorship, networking, succession planning and directorships. Set clear career paths.
4 Offer Coaching Programs. Provide high-potential women training in “executive presence” starting at midcareer, helping them to be seen as “leadership material.”
Corporate leaders often mean well but unconsciously behave in biased ways. To help “turn their good intentions into good decisions and good actions,” checkpoints and prompts should be built into recruiting, promotion, sponsorship, training and career-planning processes, says Kara Helander, a group co-chair and managing director of BlackRock Inc. Dana Beth Ardi, managing director of Corporate Anthropology Advisors, says diversity must “become a mantra for the entire organization,” and senior leaders and employees alike should be held accountable.
Also, sponsorship should be a two-way street, says co-chair Julia Dulan, managing attorney with Southern Co. Not only should sponsors “go out on a limb, advocate for the next promotion for the employee and provide air cover,” but protégés have an obligation to “be trustworthy and loyal, and able to be counted on to deliver the goods,” she says.
The Bottom Line: Owning Profit
1 Measure by Performance. Create performance metrics that eliminate gender bias. Set clear roles and responsibilities for every job.
2 Make Succession Transparent. Post jobs regularly and ensure a diverse candidate slate. Hold regular succession-planning reviews and make managers accountable.
3 Offer a Range of Roles. Equip employees to run profit-and-loss operations by offering a range of roles. Embrace individual styles of leadership.
4 Articulate the Business Case. Make clear why advancing women leaders will improve the bottom line. Hold leaders accountable for placing women in P&L roles.
Line-management experience is a career linchpin for nearly four out of five successful women executives, based on the McKinsey study, but too few women are getting it. Some “don’t put their hat in the ring, because they think automatically, ‘I’d have to travel 24/7 and be available all the time,’ ” says Adele Gulfo, president of Pfizer’s U.S. primary-care operations, and a group co-chair. In other cases, “entrenched beliefs and perceptions about the role of women” get in their way.
Christine Owens, a senior vice president at United Parcel Service Inc., advises basing performance reviews on metrics tied to business goals, rather than subjective impressions such as, “great guy—wonderful woman. You need to talk specifics.”
Extreme Sport: The Work-Life Balancing Act
1 Make Flexibility a Right. True work-life flexibility should be an inclusive part of company strategy and culture, for every employee.
2 Encourage Retention Sponsorship. Create a climate where senior women reach out to younger women to share encouragement and a sense of purpose and hope.
3 Publicize and Celebrate. Create a culture that celebrates work-life balance. Publicize success stories inside and outside the organization.
4 Provide Tools for Managers. Equip every front-line manager to discuss work-life issues and implement policies. Make managers accountable for retaining key staff.
Fathers tend to get more ambitious as their families grow, but women’s desire to advance drops after having a second child, the McKinsey study shows. True flexibility in managing work time should be allowed all employees, male and female, parents and non-parents, says Helena Foulkes, an executive vice president of CVS Caremark Corp., and a group co-chair. This would encourage more open talk and mutual support.
Women also should share hope and encouragement, says Ms. Foulkes, a mother of four. Early in her career, “I really wish someone had told me that 10 years later, the work would be lots more interesting,” she says. She encourages young managers “to think ahead to the next five to 10 years, because when you’re in the battle zone of that period, you don’t often appreciate the value of sticking to it.”
Equipping managers to have “difficult conversations” with employees about work-life conflicts would help them address problems, rather than letting them fester, says Katherine Garrett-Cox, chief executive of Alliance Trust. Also a mother of four, Ms. Garrett-Cox says she sets an example, recently telling her team during a busy period that she was leaving at 6 p.m. “to dress up as a pirate and go home and celebrate my son’s seventh birthday.”
A Winning Culture
1 Rethink Leadership. Meet with employees at least two levels beneath you to ask for a reality check and feedback. Build cultural and global competency, and gauge its impact on the business.
2 Harness Innovation. Promote curiosity, leverage interdisciplinary partnerships and build collaboration to aid competitiveness. Celebrate failure, and reward risk-taking.
3 Get Real about Sponsorship. Expect all leaders, male and female, to sponsor three diverse successors. Require regular progress reports.
4 Set a High Bar. Challenge women to take on risky, high-stakes assignments. Hold executives accountable for using metrics to measure progress.
Executives should explore employees’ views on the company culture by seeking out lower-level employees and asking them. “A lot of this we can learn by simply listening,” says Julie Louise Gerberding, president of Merck Vaccines. Cultural-quality measures should be embedded in performance plans and reviews, Dr. Gerberding says; “if we don’t measure it, it won’t happen.”
Also, many women have an inherent strength, a “collaborative capacity,” that can enrich a company’s culture, says Mamatha Chamarthi, vice president and chief information officer at CMS Energy Corp. Tapping this strength can spark “matrixed thinking” on work teams, helping a company gain a competitive edge, she says.
Diversifying the Board
1 Improve Governance. Enforce term limits, and rotate committee memberships. Require a diverse slate of candidates, and include women directors on the nominating committee.
2 Develop Board Registries. Industries could develop lists of qualified women willing to serve on boards. Encourage women to submit their names.
3 Identify Women Candidates. Human-resources managers and CEOs could help identify potential board candidates.
4 Plan for Gender Diversity. The board should do succession planning on a rolling five-year-plan basis. Make gender diversity nonnegotiable.
Many boards “use the excuse ‘we just can’t find a qualified woman,’ which isn’t accurate,” says Karena Strella, co-managing partner of Egon Zehnder International and a group co-chair. Creating new, industrywide candidate registries could help identify prospects, she says.
Boards also should consider younger candidates who display “mental maturity,” says David Chavern, chief operating officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In an age of new media and rapid change in general, he says, engaging younger directors with experience in emerging fields makes sense.
A TOOL KIT FOR SOCIETY AND THE INDIVIDUAL
Advancing Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math
1 Require “STEM” Studies. Set a common K-12 curriculum of science, technology, engineering and math. Expose girls to female role models.
2 Recruit, Retain and Advance Women. Find at least one female candidate for every technical job. Reward the C-suite for retaining and promoting women.
‘Women on the board do bring a different perspective. They think a little bit differently. They are more comfortable with ambiguity. It’s not such a linear thought. Just that difference and having that give and take at the board level is very important for America’s overall competitiveness.’ -Desiree Rogers, CEO, Johnson Publishing Co. Genesis Photos for The Wall Street Journal
3 Sell Sizzle and Meaning. Develop a national marketing campaign to promote STEM, positioning scientists as game changers who are making a difference.
4 Engage the Community. Work with youth groups to interest young girls in STEM. Promote STEM activities in after-school programs.
Improving U.S. science and math education is critical to keep U.S. teens from falling further behind their global counterparts in math and science scores, says Margaret Honey, president and CEO of the New York Hall of Science and a group co-chair. Teacher training should be improved, and instruction should include more hands-on projects that interest girls.
Scientific and technical women exit jobs at midcareer in even greater numbers than in other fields, says Susan Ness, a senior fellow at the SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations. Employers should create a flexible workplace culture, offer professional-development courses for women on career breaks and encourage them to return to work.
Glen Morrison, president of Alcoa’s building and construction-systems unit, suggests government and companies might collaborate on marketing campaigns stressing the meaning many scientists find in their work—to “transcend the lab coat” image and position scientists as heroes to society.
Alan Murray talks with Jack and Suzy Welch at the Women in the Economy conference about what steps need to be taken to eliminate the cultural biases against women advancing in business.
‘We started a women’s forum. We got up to 500 people. The best of the women would come to me and say, “I don’t want to be in this forum. I’m not in the victims’ unit. I am a star. I want to be compared with the best of your best.”.’ -John F. Welch, Former Chairman and CEO of General Electric and Founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute Genesis Photos for The Wall Street Journal
The Winning Entrepreneur
1 WSJ: More Entrepreneurs! The Wall Street Journal and other publications should increase coverage of entrepreneurship.
2 Formalize Connections. Ask venture capitalists, angel investors and business-school faculty to introduce women entrepreneurs to prospective funders.
3 Corporate Champions. Create partnerships between corporations and entrepreneurs who contribute R&D in return for advice and operating help.
4 Tax Credits for Angels. Create federal tax credits for angel investors who provide capital for start-ups. Allow investors to sell unused credits.
More media coverage of women as entrepreneurs and business experts, and of entrepreneurship in general, would encourage women to act on entrepreneurial ideas and form businesses, says Kay Koplovitz, CEO of Koplovitz & Co. and former president of USA Networks.
The group, co-chaired by Barbara Boxer, an investment partner in Belle Capital Fund and president of Women Angels, and Heidi Messer, chairman of Collective [i], also endorsed creating a registry of accomplished women to help aspiring entrepreneurs reach out for networking and financing help.
1 Build a Leadership Institute. This business-university partnership could identify high-potential college women for early training and development.
2 GPS for Life. Provide a career-strategy tool kit to help with change management, career planning, negotiating and entrepreneurship.
3 Exploit the Research. Use existing research to inform college students about navigating the workplace, embracing diversity and seizing opportunities.
4 Line Jobs: Start Early. Teach students how exciting and rewarding operating jobs can be. Help them set career plans that start with operating jobs.
Creating a leadership institute to identify potential female leaders on college campuses and providing early coaching could help them get off to a faster start in the workplace, says Susan Desmond-Hellmann, chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, and a co-chair. Funding for the program might come from a public-private partnership. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti, president and managing director of Apollo Research Institute, says, “The key is to start it at the university level, rather than waiting until they are out.”
Although women tend to outperform men during college, research shows they regard themselves as less capable in math and science, often hampering their advancement and job performance, says Helen Drinan, president of Simmons College. Educating women and men about these patterns could better equip them to enter the workplace, she says.
The Role of Government
1 Lead by Example. Government should be a role model for hiring, committing to 30% women at the top and reporting on progress.
2 Optimize Tax Policy. Reduce the corporate tax rate to 20% to avoid penalizing small businesses for growth. Give tax breaks for supporting women returning to work.
‘When you have more women on the board, is it making a difference? And the answer seems to be yes. Whatever metric you use, it seems that when there are more women— maybe it’s greater diversity of thought that gets put into decisionmaking— you get better decision-making.’ -Jane Shaw, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Intel Genesis Photos for The Wall Street Journal
3 Incentivize Child Care. Government should support more accessible, affordable child-care options, including preschool.
4 Analyze Impact of Policies. Review proposals and laws, and update those that disadvantage women. Help make the economic case for women in business.
Keeping jobs open for women out on maternity leave can be costly, and tax breaks could help offset that, says Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada and a co-chair of the group. Also, government incentives could spark growth in reliable child care, helping more women participate in the workforce, she says.
Government could mine its database to help build “an economic case for the full participation of women” in the workforce, says Barbara Kasoff, president of the nonprofit Women Impacting Public Policy. Better data is needed on women’s participation in small business, she says.
Government also should set an example of diversity, says Paula Dobriansky, an adjunct senior fellow at Harvard University’s JFK Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Seeing women advance in national and state capitals “can really have an impact on leadership of our businesses.”
‘I’m not a big believer that the way to fix all the problems in the world is to come up with some new piece of legislation. But I do think that the pressure from below and the side and the media and everything else is absolutely fair game.’ -Jack A. Markell, Governor of Delaware Genesis Photos for The Wall Street Journal
It Starts with Us
1 Build Coalitions. Facilitate and support groups within companies that encourage diversity. Accept differences, include men and ask for resources.
2 Organize Personal Allies. Bring together allies across functions, levels and racial-ethnic groups to strategize, advocate, mentor and support women.
3 Promote the Business Case. Show the return on investment for advancing women. Identify obstacles and benefits. Set goals and measure results.
4 Celebrate Small Wins. Tempered radicals who rock the boat without falling out can foster change through small wins. Model behavior you want to see.
Forming a group of women from different levels and job functions, as a kind of “personal” board, can help women learn how they are seen by colleagues and how they might improve, says Linda Apsley, a principal group program manager at Microsoft Corp. and a working-group co-chair. Reaching out to women of all racial and ethnic groups is crucial, she adds.
Individuals also can promote the business case—”delineating the return on investment of moving women forward,” as well as nonfinancial benefits and the obstacles that remain, says Helene Lollis, president of Pathbuilders.
Lori Beer, an executive vice president at WellPoint, advises celebrating even small wins—such as a single manager making a decision to always assemble a diverse slate of candidates for promotions. Drawing on a 2001 book by Debra Meyerson, the group recommended becoming “tempered radicals”—employees who use tensions and differences with their employers and colleagues to spark growth and change.
Personal Strategies: Tools for the Individual
1 Raise Your Hand. Own your accomplishments, and don’t overplay failures. Volunteer for high-risk assignments. Ask and negotiate for what you want.
2 Do Self-Assessments. Regularly consider, “How do people experience me? Am I a game changer and value creator who builds trusting relationships?”
3 Cultivate Relationships. Don’t just network; bond with key peers, male and female, who know you and support your ambitions. Ask for and accept help.
4 Use Adaptive Communication. Know your audience and anticipate their response. Use language as a tool for influence. Learn to interrupt effectively.
“Women need to raise their hands for tough assignments, for the ugly jobs,” says Dee Dee Myers, managing director of Glover Park Group, former White House press secretary and co-chair of the group. “The first step in being able to do that is to own our accomplishments,” she says. Regular self-assessment can help, she says.
Subordinates learn from leaders who use self-assessment “as an evolutionary tool,” showing them how to be open about both successes and failures and learn from them, says Lynn Tilton, founder and CEO of Patriarch Partners. “It’s important for women not to use self-assessment as a tool of apology or a demonstration of weakness, but as a weapon of power and strength.”
Identifying key peers who can support your ambitions and help you succeed is critical, says Nina Godiwalla, chief executive of MindWorks. This goes beyond networking, to forging deep and lasting bonds.
Finally, learning to use language as a tool for power and influence—concisely and succinctly, focusing on no more than three key points and anticipating the reaction your words will incite—can be a powerful tool, she says.
Ms. Shellenbarger is a senior writer and Work and Family columnist at The Wall Street Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corrections & Amplifications
Managers at Google must invest extra effort to prod women engineers to nominate themselves for promotions, but the company is successful in promoting women engineers at about the same rate as men. An earlier version of this article failed to make clear that the company promotes men and women engineers at about the same rate.