Being a woman in a position of power is still a challenging role, despite the major strides that have been made in recent years. It is easy to dismiss the gender gap in terms of pay and opportunity as a thing of the past until you look at the fact that just 4% of CEOs of S&P 500 companies are women. With this kind of disparity, it is important to look at the challenges these women who have made it this far face and what companies as well as women who aspire to top positions, can do to nurture executive talent and ensure that women leaders are prepared to live up to the CEO job description.
Increased Pressures Mean Increased WorkWomen are in executive or President/CEO roles are under pressure to perform amplified by being a minority in their position. Such pressures can mean that female CEOs have to spend more time thinking about not just the choices they make for their company but also how those choices will reflect on the overall role of women in business. According to some, such as Kathleen Mason, former CEO of Tuesday Morning Corp., can lead women in the CEO role to take fewer risks, because if they don’t pay off the repercussions could be felt well beyond their own experiences.
The Glass Cliff TheoryOne reason that female CEOs may face even more scrutiny is something that has come to be known as the glass cliff theory. One German study found that women are more likely to be chosen for CEO and top managerial roles when a company is already in turmoil, while men are more likely to be chosen when a company is already doing well. As you might imagine, this sets these women up to fail. Although many CEOs do manage to turn companies around, not all do because some companies are already too far gone when they are brought in. One high profile instance of this would be Marissa Mayer and her failure to turn Yahoo around and reclaim its place among top internet companies.
More Women CEOs Work Their Way UpNot every female CEO is Marissa Mayer. In fact, one study found that far more women CEOs had worked their way up to the role from humble internal beginnings, with 70% of women CEOs in one study having worked at the company for ten years or more before ascending to the chief role. What this shows is that the trajectory for women CEOs is more varied than one might expect. Some women may swoop in and do their best to save a doomed company while others may work diligently for years -- as customer service reps, executive assistants, or even interns -- before becoming CEOs.
The reality of being a female CEO is different for every woman that lands the coveted role. However, we can still look at the larger trends of gender in top companies and see that there is still a huge deficit in female leadership. Until there is such balance among top executive roles that expectations are equal across the board, the discussion of what it means to be a woman in charge must continue.