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Working women grab headlines in 2012

Friday, January 4, 2013  
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Working women received good news and bad news in the last 12 months, as career advancement, pay inequality and other gender diversity issues hit the headlines.

Creating the most buzz in 2012 was Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic, in which she concluded that working mothers simply can’t have it all.

 High-profile appointments, including Rosalind G. Brewer to CEO of Walmart's Sam's Club, were encouraging. But while a record number of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies were held by women last year, women held just 4 percent of companies’ top spots. And some news remained regrettably familiar: The year produced new studies that showed women continue to be undervalued in the workplace.

Here are the Top 10 stories for working women in 2012:

1. Anne-Marie Slaughter goes viral with essay arguing women can’t have it all

A feature essay by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine sparked renewed debate on whether a woman can have both a successful high-profile career, while simultaneously being a good mother to young children. Recounting her own difficulties striking a balance, the former director of policy planning to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the current workplace culture, which rewards executives who are available around the clock, makes it impossible for women to pursue both power positions and family life simultaneously.

2. Rosalind Brewer is first woman and African American to lead Sam’s Club.

Rosalind G. Brewer was named to the CEO job at Sam’s Club in February, making her the first woman and African American to hold the top position at one of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s business units. Brewer was previously the head of Wal-Mart’s U.S. east unit, representing over 1,500 stores and half a million employees. She was also the first chairperson of the Wal-Mart President’s Council of Global Women Leaders.

3. Parenthood drives pay gap between men and women

A study released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in December found that women continue to earn less than their male counterparts, particularly after they have children. The Paris-based think tank found in its 38 member countries, men earn 16 percent more than women in similar jobs. The gap widens to 22 percent after women and men have at least one child. The prohibitive cost of childcare is cited as a deterrent for women increasing the number of hours they work.

4. Sheryl Sandberg becomes Facebook’s first female director

In June, Facebook Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg became the first woman to be appointed to the company’s board of directors. Facebook had been seeking to add directors, including at least one woman, to make its board more inclusive. The majority of Facebook’s users are women.

5. MBA doesn’t guarantee equal pay

The pay gap among graduates of elite business schools is widening. In 2002, women from the top 30 MBA programs made 98 cents for every dollar paid to their male classmates, a number that fell to 93 cents on the dollar in 2012. Nonprofit group Catalyst found a disparity of $30,000 at the midcareer point of men and women MBA graduates. One reason for the discrepancy? Women are more likely than men to choose careers in retail and consumer products, compared to more lucrative fields like investment banking and private equity.

6. Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! — president and pregnant

When Yahoo! appointed 37 year-old engineer and former Google executive Marissa Mayer as its president and chief executive officer in July, she solidified her spot as one of the most prominent women in Silicon Valley. Almost immediately, Mayer announced that she was expecting her first child, sparking debate over whether her pregnancy and pending motherhood would impact her ability to lead a Fortune 500 company.

7. Nineteen female CEOs on Fortune 500 list

Nearly 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies now have at least one female executive officer, according to nonprofit group Catalyst. In 2012 a record 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies were headed by women, more than half of them appointed within the last 24 months. The year’s Forbes Power Women list included six brand new chiefs: Marissa Mayer at Yahoo!, HP’s Meg Whitman, Maria das Gracas Silva Foster of Brazil’s Petrobras, Sheri McCoy at Avon, Time Inc.’s Laura Lang and Ginni Rometty of IBM.

8. Women less than 2 percent of retail industry CEOs in 2012

Out of 38 top fashion, retail and beauty companies only five have women in the corner office as CEO, according to a Women’s Wear Daily survey. Lingering sexism in the corporate sphere, the quest for work-life balance and failure to identify leadership potential in women are possible causes of the imbalance. Some say women need to develop broader networks to advance. Others say current CEOs must work harder to ensure retail executive teams are broadly diverse.

9. Record number of women elected to Senate and House

Women headed to Washington in record numbers. In a historic first, the 2012 U.S. election saw 20 women elected to the Senate and 81 women to the House of Representatives. Many states saw women winning Senate seats for the first time. New Hampshire became the first state to vote for an all-female congressional delegation and governor. Record numbers of women ran for office in 2012, representing a wide range of political viewpoints.

10. Women pay more as gender discrimination lingers in pricing

Women pay more for everything from health insurance to haircuts, dry cleaning to deodorant. American women pay an estimated $151 million in markups, greater than the budgets of 43 states. Change is coming, though. President Barack Obama’s health care bill, planned to take effect in 2014, for example, will outlaw gender-based discrimination in individual health insurance policies.

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