In a recent article for The Harbus, author Kevin Sharer examines the shortage of women CEOs.
Mary Barra, the highly regarded CEO of General Motors pictured above, is part of a very, very small group of women CEOs. Mary is a GM lifer who rose through the manufacturing ranks to earn the job five years ago. Despite decades of focus, effort, progress and learning women like Mary are vastly underrepresented in the rooms where the big decisions are made and real power resides. Conditions are likely even worse than the women CEO numbers so often quoted in lamenting the current state.
The profound dearth of women CEOs is concern enough, but upon closer examination the majority of C suite women executives occupy support roles rather than the seats of real power. These important though supportive roles include CFO, HR, GC, compliance, communications, IT, and government affairs. These are complex and important roles and come with a seat at the big table and handsome compensation. But real power resides in the positions that control the dollars, people, and assets that are the motive force behind conceiving, designing, making, marketing, selling and servicing the firm’s products and services.
These line jobs have measurable results and directly connect to the financial outcomes. Women certainly are represented in every one of these areas and sometimes have C suite responsibility for them, but far less often than men. These C suite general manager jobs are the training ground and overwhelming source of future CEOs. My thesis is that women CEOs are few largely because the pipeline to the job is even thinner at the top than generally believed. Moreover, simply decreeing that women must occupy two board seats as some jurisdictions have done will do little to change this power influence imbalance.