Money & Business

Lessons from the Top 50 Companies for Executive Women

By / Feb 6, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

While the overwhelming majority of Fortune 500 companies are still lagging in female representation in leadership positions, associations can learn a thing or two from the few dozen that are making it easier for women to climb the executive ladder.

Associations are not struggling as much with gender diversity in the C-suite and in the boardroom as their corporate counterparts are, but the strategies and characteristics of the “Top 50 Companies for Executive Women“—a list published this week by the National Association for Female Executives—could help them improve further.

“You can have as many policies and practices on the books as the day is long, but if no one’s using them and it’s not working to move women ahead, then it’s not a successful organization for women.”

“The NAFE top companies are where women have significant clout and make the decisions that affect their company’s future and its bottom line,” NAFE CEO Carol Evans said in a statement.  “Their female top executives lead businesses, set policy, and have profit-and-loss responsibility.”

Organizations that made the top 10 this year included Ernst & Young LLP, IBM, and Marriott International, among others. To compile the list, NAFE invites all Fortune 1000 companies with at least two female board members to apply for consideration.

“What sets these groups apart from the rest is actually having the numbers and data to show that their policies and practices are working in order to move women up,” said NAFE President Dr. Betty Spence. “You can have as many policies and practices on the books as the day is long, but if no one’s using them and it’s not working to move women ahead, then it’s not a successful organization for women.”

In the companies that make NAFE’s list, women make up 27 percent of board members, Spence said. That’s well ahead of the 16.9 percent of board members who are women at all Fortune 500 companies, according to a recent study by the nonprofit organization Catalyst.

Spence said there has been a dramatic increase in the number of female board members in the last several years because of the rise of women into more leadership positions. But she’s not satisfied yet.

“I believe there should be board parity, so we’re hoping that this moves even quicker,” she said. “There is a lot that’s going on at these companies that they’re doing right.”

The change has been partly driven by a growing awareness in the companies that made NAFE’s list of the need for stronger mentoring for women. A Catalyst study found that although men and women were getting an equal amount of mentoring, men were more likely to be “sponsored” by their mentors for open positions.

“Companies have become aware of the fact that women are not getting that kind of advocacy for moving up, and so many of them are putting in formal initiatives that are making a real difference,” Spence said. “It’s a key element that women have not had, and it’s a major reason why we don’t see more women at the top.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is an assistant editor at Associations Now. More »

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