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Where Are the Women?

Increasingly, companies recognizing the importance of diversity at the top are investing in recruiting and developing talented women. So why aren’t we seeing more women in top roles?

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Programs designed to promote women benefit all employees, both women and men
  • CEOs must add recruiter-in-chief and chief development officer titles to their CVs
  • Retention, not recruiting, is the main challenge to gender Balance at the top
  • Work-life balance initiatives don’t stand a chance against the up-and-out culture that defines success at most for-profit organizations

Businesses in the U.S. are doing a much better job of recruiting women, identifying high-performance individuals and grooming upcoming stars for senior leadership and
board positions. As institutional barriers to women’s development are systematically dismantled and organizations large and small invest in programs designed to make workplaces more accommodating, it is appropriate to ask why progress is so slow.

Yes, 2013 saw a new record for the number of women Fortune 500 CEOs, but that number—22—is hardly inspiring. Women hold approximately 14 percent of board seats, about the same proportion as a decade ago. Still, progress is visible. In 2008, CEOs chose Anne Mulcahy, then-CEO of Xerox, as the first woman to be named CEO of the Year. In July of 2009, Ursula Burns succeeded Mulcahy in the first woman-to-woman CEO-handoff of a Fortune 500 company. However, despite substantial gains at select organizations—think Virginia Rometty at IBM, Indra Nooyi at Pepsico, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo—mid-level women who cast their eyes upward still see mostly men looking down. The further up you go in the hierarchy, the fewer women you will see.

“The imperative of all this is that every CEO needs to add recruiter-in-chief, as well as chief development officer to [his or her] responsibilities—with a view toward adding gender diversity at every level of the enterprise,” says Maggie Wilderotter, chairman and CEO of Frontier Communications and the longest-tenured woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company. “A lot of women make decisions about broadband and telecommunications,” she notes. “If we want management teams that reflect the customer base we serve, it must start with the CEO.”

Wilderotter works hard to identify, recruit, develop and promote high performers. She has been known to recruit on airplanes, in hotel lobbies and at conferences. And when she identifies talent, her goal is to give that leader P&L responsibility as quickly as possible. The results speak for themselves. About half of Frontier’s 180 general managers are women. Of the CEO’s six direct reports, four are women. “It’s about bringing in great talent, promoting them into highly visible and important jobs with P&L responsibility and broadening responsibilities over time,” Wilderotter says.

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