We have great role models like Shelly Lazarus, chairman-CEO of WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide; Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines; or Betsy Holden, president-CEO of Kraft Foods North America, to name a few. As good as things are, it simply isn't good enough. The key word here is few.
According to the Business Women's Network's WOW!Facts 2001, Women & Diversity, our industry has the lowest percentage of board seats held by women, 5.7%.
We're talking power here, ladies.
At the very top of the food chain, power positions equate to top earnings. Only 3% of the Fortune 500 top earners are women. Odd, isn't it, how women, who are 52% of the population, almost 50% of the work force, are still a minority in participating in the wealth of America?
A closer look at the Glass Ceiling may uncover not glass but Lucite. And unlike glass, Lucite is unbreakable. Women, it's too easy to blame this on men. I believe the answer is in the looking glass.
I grew up in Detroit -- car country, good ole boy country. In those days, no matter what your background, you started as a secretary. I sat next to a woman in the secretarial pool who had a master's degree in English and was at least 100 times smarter than her boss. Both Mary and I had to get out of town to progress our careers. Detroit is different today, of course. Jan Klug was just promoted to VP-global marketing at Ford Motor Co., a position traditionally held by men. Further change will come from those who make it.
Steinem out front
All of the time I was growing and getting promoted in the business, wonderful women like Gloria Steinem were front and center with women's issues. Other activist groups were out there, too. Some people thought these activists were strident and that corporate America would naturally support and promote the rights of minorities. (And, yes, even though women are 52% of the population and almost 50% of the work force, we are still a minority in participating in the wealth of America.)
I have to say that my progress up the ladder was exhilarating. And I honestly cannot say I was held back in any way by men or women. I have several mentors in my past from both tribes -- not the least of which was Gloria Steinem and the feminists who sensitized America to do the right thing and share the power. When I was climbing the ladder, there was a lot of noise about women, and the government participated very vocally.
The '90s were quiet. Times have changed. From my personal experience, I find myself to be the only woman in many -- too many -- meetings. When I was elected to J. Walter Thompson Co.'s worldwide board, I was one of six women out of 25 in total. When I left, there were two ... we both went on to other companies. Let me say very strongly that JWT, my current company MindShare and our holding company, WPP Group, strongly support women and want women to succeed. So what's the problem?
This issue has been on my mind for some time. I started looking around for answers. One of the very interesting studies I came across, the first in what will be an annual effort, was from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania: "Progress or No Room at the Top? The Role of Women in Telecommunications, Broadcast, Cable & E-Companies." I urge you to read it.
The executive summary opens with a quote from Susan Ness, Federal Communications Commissioner: "As we enter the 21st century, it is astounding how few women are at the helm of top communications and media firms. These somber statistics present an invaluable opportunity for companies and trade associations to reflect and reward practices designed to attract and retain talented female executives."
I doubt any opportunity will be noticed without attention being drawn to these somber facts from the executive summary of the Annenberg report: The world of broadcasting and communications is changing rapidly. TV, film, music, radio and publishing companies are being absorbed into ever larger corporations, while telecommunications and e-companies are becoming a prime source for information and commerce all over the world. Yet, as these changes in technology and ownership heighten competition among broadcasting and telecommunications companies, it seems they may be overlooking one major resource -- women.
Even the newest media conglomerates and high-tech companies may reflect old attitudes in their executive suites. Women are rarely represented among top executives and boards of media, telecommunications and e-companies, even as these same companies compete fiercely for viewers and users at home and at work.
Women make up only 13% of the top executives of media, telecommunications and e-companies and only 9% of their boards. Of all of the executives included in this analysis, only 3% were women with clout titles -- CEO, chief operating officer, president and exec VP.
Jill Slavin, president of FastForward Communications, New York, is quoted in the report as saying: "The problem is most probably not the result of malice or deliberate exclusion, but rather, due to maintaining comfort levels of high-ranking executives -- males feeling most comfortable with other males. It is up to the corporate world to establish an atmosphere where male and female executives can learn to feel comfortable working together ..."
Absolutely no malice -- I agree totally with Jill's read on the situation. But I don't think the corporate world will take on the job of establishing the right atmosphere of collegial comfort. I think comfort comes from experience ... good experience of what we can bring to the bottom line. To prove our worth, we have to get there. To get there, we need to sensitize corporate America to our issues ... much like the feminists did for us in the '70s and '80s. Quiet never gets you anywhere.
While all of these thoughts of the role of women in business were rattling around in my head, I attended a cocktail party where a group of women were discussing a book, The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant. This is the fictionalized but culturally non-fiction depiction of Dinah in the Bible's Old Testament, Genesis. What The Red Tent does is celebrate the ancient continuity and unity of women. Every woman should read this book. When we had no power -- were in fact the property of our fathers, brothers and husbands, even sons -- we had each other.
So fellow tribe members, I don't really think men are the problem -- at least in the majority of cases. I think we need to look in the mirror. Are we helping each other? If one of us makes it to the board, are we promoting other women? If one of us is in control of an industry conference, are we thinking about which women to invite as keynote speakers? If an executive recruiter calls, are we promoting the names of highly competent women? If we are the boss, are we appreciating, mentoring and promoting deserving women? Are we sensitive to the need for unity amongst women?
Mentor young women
There are many women's organizations across the country. The silence of the '90s has eroded their ability to mentor young women. I recently joined Advertising Women of New York. This is an organization I have been aware of for over a decade, one that I have respected and always meant to join. Well, I'm there now and intend to give back something to the younger generation. I hope other senior women might feel the same. Senior women attract young women looking for mentors and direction. Senior women are owners of the Red Tent.
Last issue: Are we willing to accept the same ground rules our male counterparts do? This is a critical question if your ambition is the top of the mountain -- CEO, chief operating officer, president, exec VP.
Last year, the workforce was so tight that employers had to give in to all kinds of concessions to keep a viable staff. Look at the statistics: Concessions were requested and primarily given to women -- reduced work hours, short workweeks, extended leaves, working from home. Men didn't ask; they knew the consequences.
I have an idea. The woman bears the child, the man takes the maternity leave. Ladies insist on equality in the home as well as the workplace. We must accept the standard rules under which corporate America exists. And, yes, doing all that, we must still stand heads above our male colleagues to get recognition. But if we have each other in the safety of the Red Tent, there's very little we cannot accomplish together.