The organizers of International Women’s Day are pushing for “gender parity,” a situation where women enjoy equal earning power and political status as men. Alas, they assert, such a state of gender equity remains far in the future.
“With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away, there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressforProgress.”
In one sign of progress, female CEOs have grown far more common at big US companies. In 1972, Katharine Graham of The Washington Post Co. became the first woman leader of a Fortune 500 company, writes journalist Joann Lublin in Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World.
The number of female CEOs of major businesses, while still small, has been consistently rising. That’s progress, but experts predict that a century will pass before equality between the genders reaches the highest levels of business.
Lublin interviewed dozens of pioneering women business leaders and culled some lessons from their experiences. For instance, landing in a less-than-ideal job can be an opportunity to thrive. The bottom line for Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is to execute a task better than anyone else ever has before, no matter how trivial the project may be.
Andrea Jung used that approach to thrive. She was a Bloomingdale’s swimsuit buyer who hoped to be promoted to run a ready-to-wear department. Instead, she was named as merchandise manager of intimate apparel. Jung transformed the dreary department by learning the nuances of the product lineup and mastering the challenges and responsibilities of managing older employees. The fashionable, bright undergarments she brought in sold out, and the department thrived for the two years she managed it. Jung’s success led her to join Avon Products as US product marketing president.
The perseverance of engineer Diane M. Bryant demonstrates the upside of adapting to an unwelcoming culture. In 1985, when she joined Intel, the Silicon Valley semiconductor company, it was a male-dominated business. Bryant figured out how fit in with the fellas – she learned to drink scotch and swear. She became a senior manager in 2003, but continued to hit walls, particularly when her boss told her that a client said he didn’t want to deal with a woman executive. Comfortable in male-dominated situations, she infiltrated social situations that had been generally off-limits to women, enhancing her relationships with customers. Promoted to executive vice president, Bryant managed nearly 30% of Intel’s billions in revenue in 2015.
For today’s generation of ambitious women, the hurdles are lower – but they still loom.