SLOW and Unsteady Progress

Catalyst released its 2010 Census and it's receiving a bit of coverage (Today online, Seek4Media, MyStateline, Reuters, LifeInc). Conventional wisdom over the summer was that business had been experiencing a "mancession" and that we were experiencing "The End of Men."  I didn't believe a word of it, but because the facts are in opposition to the new conventional wisdom, this release by Catalyst is getting more than its usual coverage. Catalyst is reporting that
136 of Fortune 500 companies had no women executives, among them Exxon Mobil, Berkshire Hathaway, Citigroup, Costco Wholesale and Sears Holding. Women held 14.4 per cent of executive officer positions in 2010, up from 13.5 per cent in 2009, and female executive officers held 7.6 per cent of the top earning positions, up from 6.3 per cent last year, the 2010 Catalyst Census showed.
"This is our fifth report where the annual change in female leadership remained flat. If this trend line represented a patient's pulse, she'd be dead," said Ms Ilene Lang, president and chief executive of Catalyst, a non-profit organisation that advocates greater opportunities for women.
The best five companies in terms of women in the executive suite were Gap, H&R Block, Limited Brands, TIAA-CREF and Western Union.
More than 10 per cent of companies lacked any women on their boards last year and this year."
What bothers me about the coverage is that Ilene Lang's rationale for getting women into leadership is not one that's likely to convince boards and C-suite men to take action. She is quoted as saying, "To be successful, they have to have more points of view - people from all kinds of backgrounds - and have diversity in the senior leadership." A different winning argument would be that companies that have gender-neutral advancement practices (more outcome-oriented versus subjective) get more women to the top which is likely to account for the correlation between women at the top and financial performance. So, uncover and remedy bias in your systems if the top of diverse organizations is mostly male.

The Catalyst census also points to the importance of having sponsors (as opposed to mentors.) Don't get me started on this subject! Women have been told to get mentors (which actually meant sponsors back when the advice started in the 70s) for nearly 4 decades. Formalizing these mentoring programs eliminated the "sponsorship" element and revisiting this to establish formal "sponsorship" programs will do the same and we'll be looking for a new word in 40 years to describe the commitment of more senior people to help more junior advance.

Jenna Goudreau picks up the Catalyst information and writes about the discrepancies in impact between women and men who have mentors. Her bottom line advice is:
"Professional women should seek out mentors at the highest levels of leadership. Those that do are promoted at the same rate as men with mentors at the top. Less clear is why women’s compensation lags behind men’s even with a mentor at the top."
But advice to get a senior mentor (or sponsor) misses the point if you don't know what to seek from the relationship.

Special Tip for You!
At Leading Women we offer unconventional advice about how women can make the most of mentoring relationships. Hint: ask for a piece of P.I.E. Want to know more about what this means and how it can fuel your career success? Email me.

A few random links:  
These two studies relate in one way: "Almost 3% of women were dismissed from their jobs, the study found, while less than 1% of their male counterparts suffered the same fate."
Lead ON!
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women and author of No Ceiling, No Walls.  Follow her on Twitter.

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