Are women’s roles in the c-suite progressing effectively?

Dec 11, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail TouchPoints.

Are women’s roles in the c-suite progressing effectively? I’m still trying to answer that question for myself.

Recently I had the opportunity to hear some very compelling female executives speak about their roles and the business challenges related to being a female in a leadership position in business, and in retail specifically.

While on some level we’d like to think that the business world doesn’t treat females differently than males, it just doesn’t work that way. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For example, Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldiBlox, recently spoke at the Texas A&M Retailing Summit in Dallas. She is the personification of a retail success story that developed because of her concern that engineering-oriented toys were not targeted to young females. It was a compelling and impressive presentation. Her thriving company is comprised of a mix of males and females of varying ages. Following her presentation, she received cheers from both the males and females in the audience.

Then, in New York in October, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel of four impressive female executives at the SAP Retail Forum:

  • Lisa Walsh, SVP, Sales, PepsiCo, and Network of Executive Women (NEW) board member
  • Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder and CEO, GLAMSQUAD and co-founder and strategic advisor, Gilt
  • Mary Pytko, EVP, global human resources, Brooks Brothers Group, Inc.
  • Lori Mitchell-Keller, SVP and head of the Global Retail Industry Business Unit, SAP

The conversation centered around collaboration in the workplace, how women are contributing to overall business transformation, and future expectations for women in the c-suite. The discussion kicked off with each panel member introducing herself and providing a bit of personal background. Interestingly, every one mentioned whether or not they had children. Following the presentation, one female audience member commented to me that she doesn’t typically hear men mention their children when they introduce themselves at a work event. That made me think a bit.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to mention our children. Speaking for myself, I am very proud of my accomplishments as a mother in addition to my career accomplishments.

I think we should all be proud of our individual efforts and accomplishments — whether we are male or female — but we also should support the groups we relate to. I am proud when I see females doing well, whether they are young girls winning a spelling bee, friends achieving career success or a politician I admire getting elected. On the other hand, I’m equally embarrassed for female-kind when someone commits an act I find inexcusable (such as building a nursery next to her office while refusing to allow female employees to work from home).

What positive steps have you seen companies take to support women’s career goals and family roles? What are the biggest hurdles preventing more women from rising to the c-suite?

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5 Comments on "Are women’s roles in the c-suite progressing effectively?"

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Joan Treistman
7 years 6 months ago
It’s not up to companies to support women’s career goals. That suggests there is a corporate manual someplace which makes all the difference. If upper management, i.e. the c-suite doesn’t support growth opportunities for men and women equally no HR mandate will overcome the barriers. Recently it was noted in the press that men who take paternity leave find serious hurdles when they come back to their companies. Shocker. Of course women have known this for years. I have a particular concern about the blind eye of companies and their management for caregivers. Most, but definitely not all, caregivers are women. I’ve seen too many instances of long-term and demanding challenges in a family such as Alzheimer’s, terminal cancer, etc., where immediate supervisors and accordingly the corporation itself just don’t “get it.” These caregivers are delivering physically, emotionally and cerebrally 24/7 without any understanding, much less support, from their superiors and the company. Under those circumstances, family leave/FMLA is like paternity leave in its outcome, i.e., moving to the back of the line for career… Read more »
David Livingston
7 years 6 months ago
I haven’t seen any real meaningful steps being taken to support women’s career goals. It’s really up to the individual woman to make personal adjustments to succeed rather that for the business to make special allowances. In my opinion the biggest hurdle would be having a stronger emphasis on balancing family/children responsibilities. I’ve seen studies where the average man works 48 hours a week and the average woman works 38. Promotions to the c-suite aren’t given to you, they’re something you take away from someone else. Perhaps that extra 10 hours a week is whats needed to take the position away from someone else. To answer the question of if women’s roles in the C-suite are progressing effectively, my answer would be yes. Business is like sports, it’s survival of the fittest not the fairest. Promotions come down to prowess, work ethic and professionalism regardless of gender. We’ve tried rigging the system for years but at the end of the day, it’s all about the money, so however things shake out, that’s the way it… Read more »
Rebecca Sanders
Rebecca Sanders
7 years 6 months ago
Unfortunately most of the positive steps made by companies to support women’s career goals have been due to laws that prohibit gender discrimination. The biggest hurdle is simply being a woman. Imagine an environment in which people did their jobs without identifying their race, age, gender or other defining demographic characteristic. People would be judged solely on the values they contribute that strengthen the organization and make it more successful. When everyone took off their masks and voice-altering devices, I’m confident we would see a truly diversified group of employees in the C-suite and in other leadership roles. Imagine the surprise to see the executive team comprised of that woman who was written off years ago, misjudged as abrasive rather than assertive; the older woman who someone felt was no longer promotable because her hair was gray; the young single mother who was labeled unreliable because she often worked from home due to a sick child; the lady with the accent that few people took time to understand; or the middle-age woman who wanted the… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
7 years 6 months ago

I can’t help but invoke one of the lesser-discussed points from Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” philosophy, “The most important career choice you will ever make is who you marry,” or to expand upon that, women must consciously build support systems that gird their career goals. Men can still accomplish this feat simply by getting married in the first place. Women on the other hand, must make conscious, discriminating choices in order to make things happen. Wishful thinking won’t cut it. This is the main difference.

Ralph Jacobson
7 years 6 months ago

I know of more than one top or senior female executive in a major supermarket company in the U.S. who began their careers as a part-time store cashier, etc. I think great strides have been made in our business for women to achieve leadership positions. If anything, I also believe that fewer hurdles than ever exist. I don’t mean to imply that progression through the corporate ranks is easy by any means, however, I do feel that women have the best opportunities for advancement that they ever have had. I am curious to hear views from overseas.


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