Men have always mentored one another. But now, more men in the C-suite are helping women get into the corner office—and they’re making headway.
We asked some respected corporate leaders why so many women are still banging against that glass ceiling, why men should care, and how women with C-suite aspirations can rocket to the top. Here’s what they had to say.
Why is it important for a company to make sure there are women in leadership roles?
HALVORSON: That’s like asking why it is important to have human beings in leadership roles. Half of our popu- lation—and often more than half of our workforce—is women. Of course women should be in leadership roles. Not having women in leadership roles sends a strong and very strange message about the people who do lead an organization.
VINCENT: Male executives should be beholden to the shareholders and do what is best for their organization. That includes getting the very best people into all roles and not shutting off the path for anyone who is qualified.
CHAVEL: For Sodexo, good leadership that is diverse and inclusive is critical to our strategy: it is what got us here and what will sustain us. Having diverse voices engaged at the table is just good business. Currently, my chief financial officer, my chief human resources officer, my chief diversity officer, my chief supply chain officer, and the president of our education client segment are all women and they all report directly to me.
TURLEY: Ernst & Young is a global organization, and the world is diverse and changing. To be successful, we have to mirror the demographics we see around the world—including diverse clients who demand that we bring a diverse team to the table. Women leaders bring their own unique mix of experiences and perspectives, and that is what drives better solutions, better products, and better ideas. PAPADOPOULOS: Innovation is an intensely human process. The leadership should not just reflect the diversity of thought and life experiences, but also help create and celebrate it. Drawing only from one gender is ridiculously self-limiting.
PAPADOPOULOS: Innovation is an intensely human process. The leadership should not just reflect the diversity of thought and life experiences, but also help create and celebrate it. Drawing only from one gender is ridiculously self-limiting.
BORROMEO: My own experience—having practiced law at a law firm and in now four different companies over 30 years—is that having the input from different perspectives, including of the many women attorneys I have hired and managed, has made me a better lawyer to my clients.
I have had many conversations over the years where my views were tested and changed as a result of debate and discussions with my team.
Do you think that having women in leadership positions can help the bottom line?
Do you think that having women in leadership positions can help the bottom line?
HOOLEY: In a recent study of multiple industries [“Women at the Top of Corporations: Making It Happen,” by McKinsey & Company], companies with the greatest number of women on executive committees performed better than those without women. When looking at return on equity, they surpassed the group with no women by 41 percent.
REINEMUND: From my experience at PepsiCo, I can tell you that the company performed better financially and ex- perienced lower employee turnover when we made a strong commitment to diversity throughout the business, includ- ing in key leadership positions. Diversity is not just the right thing to do; it’s good for business.
ROBBINS: Tom Peters has done some great research on this very topic. In essence, he has demonstrated that diverse groups, when properly managed, make more innovative business decisions than nondiverse groups. I see this con- cept playing out every day within Cisco.
KOENIG: Yes, without over-generalizing, having women in leadership increases the odds of retaining more women. It tends to increase the level of emotional intelligence in a room and tends to offer a healthier view of appropriate risks.
PAPADOPOULOS: If you want to build great products that appeal to the greatest number of people, you’ll have the best chance if you can include the greatest diversity of experiences and perspectives in your teams. Many people think of engineering as formulaic. It’s not. It’s very much an art. What you get out is hugely determined by the life experiences of the people who create it—the engineers and designers. That’s fundamental bottom-line stuff.
VINCENT: Women, by the nature of their life experiences and the varied roles they have often played in their lives, bring a different perspective to leadership. Especially in organizations like ours that market to the consumer, having women’s voices in decisions is critical.
SKINNER: At McDonald’s, when the roughly 64 million customers that we serve every day enter our restaurants, they need to see themselves reflected in the people who serve them and in the overall experience we deliver. Having a diverse workforce, particularly in the leadership levels, provides you with the unique insights you need to keep improving and making your business stronger. If everyone in the room is the same color as you—or the same gender or ethnic background [or from the] same walk of life – you’re not getting good advice.
Why do you think there are still so few women in the C-suite?
CHAVEL: It was not long ago that women were seen as primary caregivers and perceived to be less career-driven than their male counterparts. But today, we are seeing many more options— policies to support mothers, women’s network groups, formal mentoring programs—that are breaking down the structural barriers that have kept women from rising to leadership positions.
VINCENT: For so long, women were limited to certain roles and not even considered for senior management opportuni- ties. While the percentages have improved significantly, to a certain extent, women are still playing catch-up. Certain fields—publishing, education—have historically been more accepting of women leaders, while others are still less so.
TURLEY: I’m sure we’re still dismantling the long-term effects of generations of biased ways of thinking. We’ve done a lot
of work at Ernst & Young with our line leaders, looking at the power of unconscious bias: how personal preferences can shape our relationships in ways that end up going against our own interests. If how you view those who are different from you is very specific and strong, you can shut out people with diverse perspectives or different ways of achieving high performance. All of this comes into play in evaluation and promotion decisions up and down the pipeline.
HALVORSON: A male leader who only understands hier- archy and chain-of-command management approaches and RSHIP
the same gender or ethnic background as an effective management style will often overlook or not see the skills and value of a collaborative leader who happens to be a woman. Men in positions of power who want their organization to succeed should figure out what roles and tasks are needed in each key position for organizational success. Complex, multilayer projects are more likely to succeed in most set- tings with a collaborative leadership style. Crisis situations sometimes re- quire warrior leader skill sets. Very few leadership situations need a warrior. People who get promoted in many set- tings are often those who were most visible—not most effective.
BORROMEO: My observation over the last 30 years of law practice is that sometimes women make personal and family decisions that take them off the C-suite track or, in the case of law firms, away from the partnership track. They take stretches of time off to have and raise children, and then it is challenging to get back on track when they return to work. Some of that is lack of opportunity for women when they do return to the workforce, and I am gratified to see that many law firms are now providing those opportuni- ties in order to capitalize on the great talent available. I am also told by women I know and respect that women often do not adequately advocate for themselves as well as men do. As a result, they are not as well positioned in the organization in terms of pay or status, which is exacerbated over time.
When in their careers do women start to lose ground?
REINEMUND: The pipeline of females in position to take C-suite roles starts to narrow even before business school. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council application trends survey, women represented less than a third of applicants in full-time MBA programs last year. One of the ways we are trying to address the shortage of women pursuing a graduate business education is through our Master of Arts in Management program at Wake Forest University Schools of Business. It was created specifically for recent liberal arts, science, and engineering graduates to broaden the focus of their undergraduate studies and immerse them in business concepts related to finance, marketing, opera- tions, quantitative analysis, accounting, economics, organiza- tional behavior, ethics, and information technology. MA graduates have the potential to complete their MBA degree in 12 additional months if they return to our full-time MBA program within five years. Since its inception six years ago, the MA program has attracted a higher percentage of women and un- derrepresented groups than our MBA programs at Wake Forest.
PAPADOPOULOS: In technology, women are way under- represented throughout the talent pipeline. That actually starts all the way back in middle school, where we need to collectively make science and math a cool thing for girls to want to be good at, too. Sally Ride, through her organiza- tion Sally Ride Science, is a great trailblazer of how to kindle girls’ interest in science. We certainly need to do more of these kinds of things, and the earlier the better.
Do you think women tend to get marginalized into certain leader- ship positions?
TURLEY: All of us have seen the pattern whereby women moving into leadership can get directed, consciously and unconsciously, into staff leadership roles rather than line leadership roles. Everyone in the organization needs to be vigilant about that and make sure that every part of the business is getting the benefits of women’s contributions.
KOENIG: Without overgeneralizing, the way some women define success may be different than some men. In my experience, I’ve seen women who are willing to take on assignments or tasks—and for good reasons—that some men would shy away from.
Why is it important that men be involved in making sure that women have upward mobility?
Why is it important that men be in- volved in making sure that women have upward mobility?
PAPADOPOULOS: Could I rephrase the question as “Why is it important that men be involved in making sure they are building a great company?” If you are acting responsibly for your shareholders, you want to ensure that you don’t have any artificial barriers to the development and growth of your next generation of leaders, whatever their gender, color, or any other aspect. Anything short of this goal is irresponsible and, well, stupid.
BORROMEO: Men continue to hold power and influ- ence in most organizations. They can make things happen. In order to attract and retain women leaders, they need to have women in positions of authority and leadership as role models and decision makers. It is a straightforward business proposition.
HOOLEY: If only women work for the upward mobility of other women—particularly in financial services, where only 16.8 percent of executive officers and only 2.5 percent of chief executive officers are female—there is not enough representation to create a difference soon enough. ROBBINS: Creating possibilities and opportunities for everyone to thrive is the litmus test of a true leader. Any roadblocks or challenges that limit opportunities for some will ultimately limit the potential of the entire organization. I am a stronger leader because I support the inclusion and growth of women leaders across my organization.
REINEMUND: Educators and corporate leaders have a duty to develop future leaders. Because men are currently in the majority of corporate leadership positions, we have the opportunity to sponsor and mentor women and help to change the landscape in corporate boardrooms.
CHAVEL: One way of doing this is to actively sponsor women for upward mobility. But it is not enough for us in senior leadership positions to seek out, find, and invite women to have a seat at the table. We must create an environment that ensures that their ideas are encouraged, heard, respected, and integrated into the strategy. I believe we have a moral imperative as leaders. Our actions, more than our words, define us. It is all well and good to talk about diversity and equal opportunity, but at the end of the day, people are going to look at what we are doing, and what we have done.
When it comes to the advancement of women of various backgrounds, what is the biggest success story in your organization?
SKINNER: In 2010, we promoted Jan Fields, who started her career as a crew member in one of our restaurants, to president of McDonald’s USA. Jan is responsible for our largest geographic segment, generating almost half of Mc- Donald’s operating income every year. We weren’t looking for a woman to fill that important position. We were looking for a leader. I’m delighted to say we found a leader who is a woman. In other words, our main objective is always to find the best talent for the job.
HALVORSON: When Kaiser Permanente did the biggest systems project ever done by an American business—a $4 billion multilevel electronic medical record rollout—the person selected to run the project was Dr. Louise Liang, a woman with great prior operational and leadership expe- rience. She brought the biggest business-based systems project in history in on schedule and on budget by creating and collaboratively leading a team that did great work.
Our CFO is a woman. So is our controller and our internal auditor. We have eight multibillion-dollar major business assets that run the total program. Four are led by women presidents. Our board of directors has five women on it who have been or are the CEOs of power companies, foundations, colleges, and medical schools, and the chief of staff for a governor. Two board committees are headed by women. Why is that important? Any women in our organization who look up the chain of command can see clearly that there is no glass ceiling at Kaiser Permanente. We are a meritocracy, and promotions for people in a true meritocracy come from performance and not gender.
PAPADOPOULOS: I’ll use this question as an opportunity to talk about a woman who most affected me. The [late] Dr. Anita Borg and her eponymous Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology fundamentally shaped my views of the role of women and technology. Anita, who was an accomplished computer scientist, was a tireless advocate for making technology easier to use and to better meet the needs of people and families. In the late 1990s Anita asked me, “Do you know why so much of what we create misses the mark? Because most things are created by engineers for people just like themselves. Most of those engineers are nerdy white guys. You get out what you put in. If we want to make socially relevant technology, then we better include a far more diverse set of life experiences in the people who create it.” That was a huge awakening for me: get more women involved in the process of creation and you’ll make more interestingly diverse and relevant things.
VINCENT: We are very fortunate to have Michelle Ebanks as our president of Essence and People en Español. Michelle started at Time Inc. in March 1996 in a key finance role at Money magazine, and since then has had a number of increasingly critical roles.
ROBBINS: Padmasree Warrior has been our chief technology officer since 2008. She was born in India and moved to the U.S. An amazing collaborative leader, she co-leads our 24,000-strong engineering organizations with senior vice president Pankaj Patel. We think of her as an evangelist for what’s possible. She pushes us to think and stretch beyond our current capabilities. Fast Company recently listed her among the 100 Most Creative People in Business. She also has more than 1 million followers on Twitter, which is a testament to her significance as an innovator and visionary across the world of business and technology. One of the keys to her success is her commitment to helping others grow, specifically mentoring women leaders and elevating science and technology to pave the way for the next generation.
REINEMUND: In 2007, Indra Nooyi succeeded me as chief executive officer of PepsiCo. She was the first woman to hold the position. It was a pleasure to serve as one of her mentors, and I consider her one of my mentors as well. Since becoming CEO of PepsiCo, she consistently ranks among the top five on the Forbes list of the 100 Most Powerful Women.
KOENIG: Our board of directors “gets it” and is holding senior management accountable. More and more of our senior management are becoming stronger champions. Numbers are starting to increase at higher levels in the organization. We are spending less time consternating about putting women in key roles and a lot less time rationalizing why it won’t work. We have 31 people in our corporate center— the top 31 leaders at Cargill. About 10 years ago, we had one female. Today we have five. It’s not where we want to be, but we are going in the right direction.
What characteristics do you look for in a prospective leader?
ROBBINS: I look for individuals who are willing to “go big”—those who don’t wait to be asked to lead, but step up and take a leadership role. I look for leaders who are willing to invite debate and incorporate divergent opinions in developing unique solutions to tough challenges.
SKINNER: The main quality I look for in a leader is passion. I always say that if you’re not all the way in, then you’re not in at all. Another key quality is being a continuous learner. Being a student of your business is not only how you gain the expertise and knowledge to lead, but also how you remain engaged and always in step with coming trends and evolving tastes.
HALVORSON: I look for intelligence and integrity. I look for people who are strategic, tactical when necessary, and clearly ethical.
TURLEY: I always come back to in- tegrity, respect, and teaming. Those should be core values of every leader. Central to doing all of those well is the ability to lead inclusively, which really means the ability to exercise cross-cultural awareness and bring forward anyone’s best contribution.
VINCENT: At Time Inc., we look for leaders who are smart and talented in their field, and have EQ as well as IQ. An ability to work in a complex, highly matrixed organization is also key.
How much of your job involves getting more women into leadership positions?
TURLEY: My job description is to make Ernst & Young better every day. That only happens when we have the best talent, regardless of gender, ethnicity, physical ability, sexual orientation, or any other difference among us. So thinking about moving women into leadership roles is part of my job every day.
KOENIG: I have many roles within Cargill, both formally and informally. I mentor up to six people throughout a year’s cycle, and most are women. That’s not something that is specifically part of my job description, but it’s something that I have found to be very beneficial and effective.
ROBBINS: I see my primary role as setting the vision and communicating the value of this approach from the top and making sure that we continue to “break the glass” from both sides.
SKINNER: We hold every member of our management team at McDonald’s in every area of the world account- able for ensuring that the teams driving our business are as diverse as the customers visiting our restaurants. The numbers speak for themselves: in the U.S., women and minorities make up more than 60 percent of all our restaurant franchisees; women and minority firms account for more than half of all the suppliers we purchase from in the U.S.; and minorities and women hold over half of the seats on our board of directors and over 40 percent of the officer positions within the company. But our efforts are never finished. We remain committed to developing an even stronger culture of diversity—not because it looks good, but because it’s good for business.
VINCENT: Talent attraction, management, and retention are critical components of any HR person’s job, and maintaining a focus on diversity is an important company principle, is good for business, and is morally right. I’m pleased to have been a key player in the start-up of Time Warner’s employee resource groups [for Latino, African-American, Asian-American, and LGBT employees]. We also have a women’s network. Another key way we help women on the leadership path is by ensuring they get access to the leadership development pro- grams, internal and external coaches and mentors, and needed support.
What advice would you give a woman who aspires to be CEO of a Fortune 500 organization?
CHAVEL: Any CEO must be a good communicator. That means listening to people at all levels in the organiza- tion—not just the C-suite—because some of the best ideas are generated at the front line.
HALVORSON: Figure out what the main components of your organization are and make a point to learn quite a bit about each of them. Learn about marketing, sales, production, engineering, finance, communication, public policy, and whatever other major component parts exist in your company. You don’t have to run each of them individually, but you do need to learn enough about each so that when you are CEO, you can run all of them collectively.
TURLEY: Accept stretch assignments and take risks. As you rise through the ranks, the breadth of your experience matters more and more. Work hard at building your global mind-set and seek out global experiences so that your frame of reference keeps growing over time. Finally, always remember it’s not about you—it’s about the team.
BORROMEO: My advice would be network, network, net- work. Do that early and throughout your career. Networking creates opportunities in sometimes unexpected ways, by leads to jobs or to other life experiences. And having differ- ent networks for work and family is a great idea for those who have to juggle both, which is pretty much everyone. Also, I am a great believer in role modeling and mentoring. So I would encourage women to find someone whom they respect, who has been successful, and not necessarily in their own field, to mentor them. Find out what has worked, and what obstacles that person has faced and overcome. Bring examples of challenges faced and ask the mentor how she or he would deal with the same issue.
KOENIG: Don’t try to be Superwoman. You can have it all, but maybe not all at the same time. Always be part of the solution, not part of the problem. An international assignment would be of great value if you can make it workable from the personal side. Have a high and relentless thirst for learning. Be bold! DW