Where Are the Women?

Article excerpt

They're out there, but they're not settling for second best.

The prevailing wisdom of the early 1990s was that women would soon be entering the C-suite in great numbers. Women had begun assuming management positions, and new CEOs seemed to be shattering stereotypes - and the glass ceiling.

Yet the dearth of women in senior ranks today is palpable. Carly Fiorina's exit in February brought the number of Fortune 500 women CEOs down to a paltry seven, and the benches below arc hardly representative of the gender makeup of the work force. So what's the problem? Have women opted out in droves for full-time child-rearing, as the media hype suggests?

Not even close, says Tierncy Remick, managing director of global consumer markets for Korn/Ferry International in Chicago. Some may be opting out of big corporate life, she argues, but they're not heading for home. Rather, they're turning to small and mid-size companies with cultures that value diverse leadership styles and where they can make a genuine impact, and not just be tokens for diversity. As a result, Remick argues, the top U.S. companies are losing talent. If they want to stay on top, she notes, CEOs need to figure out why they're losing their hest women. Here arc excerpts from a conversation.

If women are not opting out, where are they going?

What you're seeing is women making different choices about how they want to continue their careers. They're not staying within a corporate structure that they view to he inflexible or non-accommodating or not celebratory of diversity of thought. They're not fleeing the work force, however. Today 50 percent of the private businesses out there arc run or owned by women. It's a growing segment of our corporate population, the fastest growing area for women in leadership.

So let's say right now there are 21 million small businesses, generating about $2.5 trillion in sales and employ 19 million people in the U.S. That's a signifieant work force being impacted by women in leadership.

In bigger companies, is there still a fear that promoting women-who might opt out-is riskier?

That's an excuse. At the end of the day, if you have a woman who is ambitious and wants to continue working and she's able to work in an environment that allows her to develop her personal life as well as her professional life, she'll stay. If she feels that's being held against her, she will leave; she will make choices. Frankly, a man has some of the same issues in getting used to being a parent. They don't have to bear the child, but it's not as if they don't care. Men are going to the baseball games and the soccer games. Men are leaving early to go to the school plays. It's not just a one-sided argument.

Do women come to you seeking to switch jobs because they find their company cultures inhospitable?

All the time.

What's the most common complaint?

They say, "I want to be in a position where I can add value and either the corporate politics or the structure or the CEO isn't creating that environment."

As the next generation moves up and takes the CEO chair, will they have a different attitude?

I thought that was the case 10 years ago. I think it's your experience base. Decisions begin to change when you have a daughter or wife who's been impacted by some of the questions we've asked, when it becomes more personal or you see your competition do something that you could have done if you'd been aware of the opportunity. If you've never been in a company that celebrated diversity, when are you going to start?

Which industries are excelling?

Consumer products and services, retail, entertainment. Some would argue financial services but I would say no, personally. …