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Workplace bias stalls women's careers, Forum attendees told

Thursday, August 2, 2012  
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The challenges and opportunities women face as they advance their careers took center stage during the first day of the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, Aug. 1 at Terranea Resort near Los Angeles.

In her briefing, "Advancing Women: Where We Stand Today,” economist Janice Madden, an expert on women’s issues and diversity in the workforce, offered a snapshot of women’s current standings in the c-suite. The percentage of women in top-five executive positions in publicly traded companies has plateaued near 6 percent and U.S. Census data shows a decline of women in these roles, she said. Indeed, the progress made by women attaining senior management positions appears to have stalled since about 2000.

At the upper levels, women are most likely to serve as general counsel or chief financial officer, Madden said. Females are underrepresented at the president, chief operating officer and chief executive officer levels. In general, women executives are more likely to have professional, or non-line jobs such as in finance and law, than executive line positions.

In terms of pay, women in top executive positions earned 22 percent less than men, although their annual salaries were only 11 percent lower, Madden noted. Much of the gender gap in pay arises from women reaching executive levels in smaller firms and holding different job titles. Discrimination also plays a part, as it is not uncommon for men to stereotype them as less qualified.

Women’s choices and others’ judgments of those choices also have affected their role in the c-suite, Madden said. Typically, women provide more house and family care than men; workplace hostility may be directed toward taking time off for parental responsibilities and flexible schedules; and the media has reported extensively, yet inaccurately, on educated women opting out of demanding jobs for more family time.

Madden advised women to pursue sponsorship, giving protégées exposure to other influential executives, ensuring their protégées get challenging assignments, and protecting protégées from damaging contacts.

Driving change

Continuing the conversation, a panel of the top industry executives participated in the "Advancing Women: What It Takes to Drive Change” executive dialogue, moderated by Nancy Croitoru, president and CEO of Food & Consumer Products of Canada. Kim Jeffery, president and CEO, Nestlé Waters North America; Lynn Marmer, group vice president, corporate affairs for The Kroger Co.; Kelly Semrau, senior vice president, global corporate affairs, communication and sustainability for SC Johnson; and David Williams, CEO of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP explored the question: "Should women just stop whining and seize the opportunity -- or is society against us?”

Marmer offered her view that neither concept is completely accurate. "Two thirds of men have children, a third of women have children. You can have it all, but not all at the same time.”

Semrau offered a different perspective. "I think women can have it all, through perseverance, persistence, pain and patience.”

"It’s a matter of the culture of where we work,” added Jeffery. "You can have it all. We can create an environment where everybody can be successful. Are we working for the right kind of people who respect who we are and what we do?”

Speaking about sponsorship versus mentorship, Williams said, "A sponsor is someone who stands behind you, tells you what not to do, what not to do, to back off. It’s an active, aggressive role. A mentor is someone who would say, ‘You could do this.’ A sponsor does so because she knows someone is going to make the company better.”

Semrau offered advice on finding sponsors who act in your best interest. "Don’t just go to the highest title, and stay away from bullies. Don’t go for the folks who you think will get you there the fastest.”


Economist Janice Madden gave an overview of the current state
of women in the c-suite.


Nancy Croitoru, president and CEO of Food & Consumer Products
of Canada, moderated the "Advancing Women: What It Takes to Drive
Change," executive panel discussion.

Senior executives David Williams of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, Kelly
Semrau of S.C. Johnson, Lynn Marmer of The Kroger Company and Kim Jeffery
of Nestl
é Waters North America gave their insights on advancing women to the c-suite.


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