It’s not a gender gap in the C-Suite… it’s a gender chasm

With the announcement this week of Campbell Soup Co. appointing Denise Morrison as CEO of the world’s largest soup maker, one might infer that the gender gap is closing in corporate America.  Unfortunately, testimony (which ironically occurred just as news of Morrison’s appointment was breaking) before the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee belies that false perception.  According to the testimony on September 28th, of Ilene Lang, President & CEO of non-profit research firm Catalyst, women make up 46% of the Fortune 500 workforce, but only 25.9% of senior officers and managers, only 13.5% of Executive Officers and just 2.6% of CEOs.  Only 13 of today’s Fortune 500 CEOs are women.  The shocking differential can be seen in a review of compensation as well, with women comprising only 6.3% of 2009’s top-earning Fortune 500 Executive Officers.   This isn’t a gender gap… it’s a chasm!

Sadly, the disparity persists at the other end of the career spectrum as well.  Catalyst reports that female M.B.A. graduates from leading business schools around the world still start lower, are paid less, and climb more slowly than equally qualified men.

The irony in all this data is the business case for increasing female representation in the C-Suite.  Catalyst’s research found that Fortune 500 companies with more women corporate officers and board directors, on average, financially outperformed those with fewer women.   Catalyst contends for example, that companies with more women board directors outperform those with fewer women by 53% on Return on Equity and 66% on Return on Invested Capital.

The enhanced financial performance when gender diversity exists among the leadership team could be attributed to many factors, such as:  the inherent strength of diverse thought and perspective (yes men and women DO tend to think differently); the contrasting and potentially complementary leadership styles of men versus women (yes, men and women DO tend to lead differently); the contrasting and complementary perspective of men & women as consumers (yes, men & women DO buy differently and in different markets). Consider the implications of an all-male leadership team whose workforce is predominately female, or an all-male leadership team of a food or cpg company whose products are targeted predominantly to a female consumer.  Just as a leadership team lacking in cultural and racial diversity struggles to understand and penetrate global markets, a team lacking in gender diversity is missing a HUGE opportunity for enhanced strategic leadership and bottom-line performance.

So while making the business case for gender – and for that matter cultural and racial – leadership diversity is easy, the practicality of making it happen is another matter.

Translation to our clients….

if you’re one of the 46.7% of today’s workforce who is a woman, the path to the C-Suite will NOT be paved for you by heightened diversity & inclusion awareness – YOU have to pave it for yourself.

As a female leader aspiring to achieve increasing scope and influence in your organization, the onus is on YOU to make your own business case, to pave your own way.  Our experience in coaching thousands of female leaders over the past 25 years is that the most accomplished women achieve success by –

–        branding themselves as strategic, innovative thinkers & risk takers

–        consistently delivering top- and bottom-line results

–        mastering & leveraging their organization’s political culture

–        networking  networking  networking

–        communicating with confidence & competence

–        ASKING & negotiating for what they want

–        giving back – mentoring other emerging leaders

Morrison moves into her role as Campbell’s COO on Friday, October 1, and assumes the reigns as CEO of the $8 billion company July 2011. She’ll have big shoes to fill in replacing her highly regarded, successful predecessor, Doug Conant.  She’ll face the skepticism of industry analysts who this week criticized her selection as a missed opportunity to infuse “new blood” into Campbell’s with an external hire.   And she’ll undoubtedly face the “silent” cynicism of some misguided stakeholders within and outside Campbell’s who will suspect her leadership capacity simply based on her gender.  But I for one – along with countless other female leaders within and outside the cpg industry  – will be watching and rooting for her to not just fill Conant’s shoes, but to surpass his successful legacy.  I’ll be cheering her on as she strives to create unprecedented shareholder value, and will look to her to provide the female leaders I coach with yet another success story by which to model their own path toward closing the C-Suite gender gap.

Written by Chris Fietsam, Lead Executive Coach, Paragon Leadership


One response to “It’s not a gender gap in the C-Suite… it’s a gender chasm

  1. Good day!This was a really impressive post!
    I come from endland, I was fortunate to search your blog in google
    Also I learn much in your topic really thank your very much i will come later

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