Women Executives are Poised to Redefine the Game

Mar 21, 2012

Former Deloitte Chairman Sharon Allen (right) joins the Chamber’s Margaret Spellings at the Center for Women in Business inaugural event. (Photo: David Bohrer for the U.S. Chamber)

While women have made steady and incremental gains in compensation and educational attainment, they need to “saddle up and speak up to move up" to top leadership positions in the corporate world, says Sharon Allen, former chairman of the board for Deloitte LLP, the first woman to serve in that role.

“Leadership is a decision you make. And, above all, a way of thinking and acting, of visioning and planning, then realizing your dreams,” Allen told a room of more than 300 women at the inaugural event for the U.S. Chamber’s Center for Women in Business on March 21. “You have to get on the horse of life, take the reins, take control and move ahead.”

The Center for Women in Business (CWB), a project of the Chamber’s Campaign for Free Enterprise, promotes and empowers women business leaders to achieve their personal and professional goals by increasing opportunities for women to serve on corporate boards and in the C-suite; mentoring women in the early stages of their careers or re-entering the workforce; and building a network of women entrepreneurs to encourage peer-to-peer networking, education, and professional growth. 

During Allen’s 38 years at Deloitte, the company became a recognized leader in advancing women and as an employer of choice—thanks in large part to the company “waging change” two decades ago when it launched the Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women. 

Allen shared a few lessons she says she’s learned in her career, including:

  • Find something you love and do it.
  • Look out for your own career.
  • Embrace change and be willing to step outside of your comfort zone.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Have a mentor and be a mentor.

Allen was joined at the event by the Chamber’s Margaret Spellings, president of the U.S. forum for Policy Innovation and executive vice president of the National Chamber Foundation; Ilene Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst; and Laurie Tucker, senior vice president for corporate marketing at FedEx Services.

In addition the event featured the release of a new study, Women in Leadership: A Look at Companies in the S&P MidCap 400 Index, 2000-2010. Done in conjunction with Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and lead researcher and event keynote Dr. Catherine H. Tinsley, the study focuses on women’s participation in the top management ranks of the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) MidCap 400 listing—companies with $1 billion to $7 billion in market capitalization—in order to complement the extensive research that exists on female executive representation in Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Women make up half the workforce, but percentages of women in the top ranks are disappointing.  Fewer than 5% of the top executives in 2010 were women, and in the ten-year period the survey covered, women in executive positions never exceeded 6%.
  • Only three industries—media, life sciences, and retailing—had women in more than 10% of executive positions. On the other end of the spectrum, the automobile and components industry reported no women executives.
  • Although the numbers of women in the top ranks are concerning, the compensation gap is narrowing. The survey showed that, while the gender gap in compensation had been significant throughout most of the decade, by 2010, the gap had closed. In fact, in the three industries where women make up more than 10% of top executives, women reported making more in overall pay than their male counterparts.
  • Location matters for women CEOs. Breaking the country into four regions and looking at data from 2006 to 2010, women fared best in the West (3.9%) and the Northeast (3.6%), with lower representation in the South (2.2%) and Midwest (0%).
  • Contrary to research that has suggested that women are recession proof, the survey found that the slow and steady climb of women executives came to a halt at the start of the global economic contraction in 2008. This trend affected younger female executives (between 27 and 39 years old) most acutely, with a decline in their ranks starting as early as 2006.

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