Women in Business: Good News and Bad

Within the last week, the Seattle Times included two articles about First Women in business. They highlight for me the importance of celebrating women’s achievements while placing their accomplishments in perspective.

Laurie Stewart was the First Woman to lead a local financial institution here in the Seattle area. She is currently President of Sound Financial Bancorp, and has been for 28 years. She was actually the second choice of the bank’s board, but the man who was first choice turned down the offer.

Stewart believes moving up the ladder should be a “simple progression,” with women rising naturally to the upper levels. But it is not. “It’s still a tough, tough glass ceiling,” she said.

Irene Rosenfeld is another First Woman who garnered attention in the newspaper last week. She is CEO of Mondelez International, a multinational company with an annual revenue of around $30 billion. With sites in 165 countries, Rosenfeld is responsible for 107,000 employees.

Mondelez’ products include chocolate, biscuits, gum, confections, and powdered beverages. Although the company name is not a household word, many of its products are. Some of the most popular are: Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Triscuit, Toblerone, Sour Patch Kids, Cadbury, Chiclets, Halls, and Tang. I wonder if Rosenfeld gives out free samples.

So, I celebrate these women, and other CEOs, but am sobered by the realization that only 6% of CEOs at S&P 500 companies last year were women. There are probably many reasons. One is the lack of diversity on public company boards. Of the people who hire CEOs, only one in five is a woman. Also, women tend to be hired in human resources and marketing in public companies and most CEOs often have financial and operating officer positions.

There is still much work to be accomplished in the business arena, but there has been progress. In 1995, just 22 years ago, there was not a single female CEO among the Fortune 500 companies. Unfortunately, progress for women in business still moves at a sluggish pace.

Carly Fiorina – CEO of a Fortune 20 Company

     Carly Fiorina rose to the heights of corporate American and then was forced aside in a public circus. Her resilience is an inspiration to us all.

CARLY FIORINA     Analyzing the first quarter-century of Carly Fiorina’s life would not necessarily lead to the conclusion that she would become (according to Forbes, Fortune, and Time magazines) one of the most powerful women in the country and the world. Her father moved frequently so her education was fragmented. She attended five different high schools, including one in Ghana. When at Stanford, she earned a B.A. in medieval history and philosophy. After getting a good taste of law school, she dropped out, leading her lawyer father to predict that she would not succeed in life.

Then Carly Fiorina earned an MBA and was hired by AT&T. After ten years she became the division’s first female officer and later head of North American sales. When AT&T decided to spin off Western Electric and Bell Labs into a new company named Lucent, Carly Fiorina guided that transition. Lucent’s IPO was the most successful in U.S. history, raising $3 billion. Fortune magazine named her the “most powerful woman in business.”

When Hewlett-Packard was searching for a CEO in 1999, Carly Fiorina was selected over an internal candidate (also a woman).  HP revenues improved, patents increased, profitability and cash flow improved. Over objections from some board members and stockholders, she reorganized Hewlett-Packard and merged with Compaq, creating the world’s largest personal computer manufacturer. When Carly Fiorina became CEO of Hewlett-Packard she proclaimed there was no glass ceiling. By the time she was forced out of Hewlett-Packard, she had changed her view.

After Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina founded Carly Fiorina Enterprises to promote entrepreneurship and innovation, build leaders and organizations, engage women and target philanthropy. After serving as fundraising chair for the presidential campaign in 2008, she ran for Senate from California, but lost to incumbent Barbara Boxer. She has served on boards for the Defense Department, the CIA, and the Department of State as well as a number of corporate boards and MIT. Her One Woman Initiative program empowers women in the Muslim world and she chairs Good360, a nonprofit that assists companies who donate excess merchandise to charities.


Read her memoir, Tough Choices, about her career and her views on leadership, women in business, and how technology is reshaping the world.

Learn more about her causes:

Good360: http://catalog.good360.org/?gclid=CPfs0oCP9rgCFSVxQgodCBUApg

One Woman Initiative: http://www.opportunity.org/media-center/videos/2012-opportunity-summit-videos/carly-fiorina-one-woman-initiative/#.UgfkPxY5vzI

Fiorina Foundation: http://carlyfiorina.com/foundation/ 


Have you ever been publicly humiliated and felt that your gender contributed to other’s perceptions of you?