working women

Female “Tokenism”

The conversation (and numbers) about the % of women CEOs or directors is well-established but rarely do people venture into deeper levels of a corporate organization.   Partially, this is because its hard to talk about what percentage of women are in “senior management” because there’s no accepted definition of what that means.  Recent research by 20-First, a gender consultancy firm does just this, by looking at what it calls “the Executive Committee” of 300 companies around the world, i.e. the people who report directly to the CEOs of Fortune 100 companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia, respectively.

One of the significant points the research makes reminded me of Token-Black, the South Park character: just because a company has some female Executive Committee members, if these women hold “support” roles (defined as HR, Communications, Strategy, Legal Affairs, IT) as opposed to a “line” role (CEO, CFO, Country Head, Business Unit Head, and other positions with P&L responsibility), that company may be guilty of “tokenism”.  The research happened to define tokenism this way.  Personally, I think this labeling is potentially is misguided and also risks unfairly marginalizing the people who hold these “support” roles, since e.g. the head of technology or CFO at a technology firm or investment bank, respectively, are extremely important jobs, even if they do not involve managing a P&L.  I understand the urge to rank companies, however, which I presume is why the report puts companies into 6 categories, based on the composition of their executive committees:

  1. Asleep: 100% male
  2. Token: <15% female, but these women occupy “support” roles
  3. Starting Smart: <15% female but some of these women are in “line” roles
  4. Progressing: 15-24% female
  5. Critical Mass = 25-40% female
  6. Balanced = 40%+ female

Take a look at the companies here and there are some surprising names on all parts of the spectrum (e.g. who would have suspected that Chevron fared better than Google?)




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