discussions often focus on male executives, but the Kellogg
Center for Executive Women is helping female leaders cultivate
their full potential
It’s a two-part
story, told in numbers. Part 1: 30 percent. That’s the
percentage of Kellogg School graduates since 1975 that are
women, a figure comparable to the alumni base of other top
Part 2: 1.2 percent.
That’s the percentage of Fortune 500 companies led by
female CEOs. Other numbers, like 5.2 percent — the proportion
of top-earning executives that are women, and 12 percent —
the percentage of corporate directors that are female —
further illustrate the tale.
more women making it to the top ranks of American business?
Hypotheses abound, yet huge gaps in the story remain. But
Victoria Husted Medvec and the other co-founders of the new
for Executive Women are determined to fill in the blanks
— and write a more satisfying ending.
knows one thing for sure. The scarcity of women at the top
is not due to a shortage of talent.
not a pipeline issue,” insists Medvec, the center’s
executive director and the Adeline Barry Davee Associate Professor
of Management and Organizations.
lots of women at the middle levels at many companies, but
there’s a real dearth of them at the top. We need to
surface these women with the experience and talent to be board
members and top executives, and make companies aware of them.”
The center was founded in June 2001 by Medvec, path-breaking
Chicago businesswoman Sheli Z. Rosenberg and Kellogg School
Professors Walter Scott and Lloyd Shefsky to do precisely
that. Backed by a steering committee that reads like a “Who’s
Who” of women in business, the center brings the
full resources of Kellogg to bear on the barriers confronting
resources include the strength of the Kellogg research faculty,
which will investigate the issues faced by female executives
from a variety of angles. It also leverages the school’s
prowess in executive education to train women for roles as
effective corporate leaders — and to teach companies
how to increase the number of women in their top ranks.
Such programs are
already under way. Twice in the past year, the center has
hosted the Women’s Director Development program, a three-day
“boot camp” to prepare women for governance leadership
is mustering forces for what promises to be a seminal study
on the roadblocks to women’s success. She and her colleagues
will examine a broad cross-section of Fortune 1000 companies
to determine what corporate practices are most effective for
promoting women into the senior ranks. These “best practices”
will then form the focus of executive education seminars aimed
at companies seeking to include more women at the highest
founders are well aware that this knowledge will remain academic
unless more women attain positions of true executive power.
Accordingly, the center has set a quantifiable benchmark for
its own success: a significant increase in the number of women
on boards and in executive positions at Fortune 1000 companies.
are able to achieve top positions in leadership and on boards,
the whole corporation benefits,” Medvec says.
from having better leaders, because they have broadened the
talent pool. They benefit from having different perspectives
in the boardroom. Many companies have markets consisting almost
entirely of women, and often there’s just one woman
— or no women — on their boards. Including more
women will help them serve their customers more effectively.”
Though the percentages of women in the top ranks remain startlingly
low, even those numbers show progress. The number of female
CEOs at Fortune 500 companies has increased threefold recently,
from two in 1995 to six in 2002. And while women account for
only 5.2 percent of the nation’s top-earning executives
these days, there were far fewer just seven years ago. As
recently as 1995, women held just 1.2 percent of all top corporate
jobs, according to Catalyst, a New York-based advocacy group
for women in business.
own research points to a number of issues faced by women as
they navigate their careers. According to the organization,
the most common roadblocks include:
Male executives often assume a woman wouldn’t want
a particular job, such as one that includes a great deal
from informal networks.
Women are less likely to hear about the job opportunities
or office gossip shared by male executives.
of mentors. There are few women in top jobs to
support and promote younger women as they rise through the
School alum Betsy Holden understands the challenges —
and benefits — of cultivating gender and other forms
of diversity in the corporate world. As co-CEO of Kraft Foods
Inc., Holden ’78 notes that Kraft has shifted from “seeing
diversity as a responsibility and the right thing to do, to
recognizing it as an important source of competitive advantage.”
cites several key points that helped bring about this change
at Kraft. Among them: making the case by showing how a diverse
workforce leads to new ideas, more innovative solutions and
better business performance. In addition, Holden says it’s
vital to align the organization through training, setting
goals and tracking progress to ensure that the most qualified
candidates are identified and developed. Peer support as women
advance into senior positions, as well as “visible,
vocal and constant support from senior management to model
the behaviors” is essential, Holden says.
Center for Executive
Women president and Kellogg Adjunct Professor Rosenberg also
has seen the hurdles women face.
Rosenberg is the
vice chairman and former CEO of Equity Group Investments Inc.,
a Chicago-based, privately held investment company with interests
in companies having more than $10 billion in annual revenues.
Though she has served on many corporate boards, Rosenberg
has often found herself to be one of the few women —
if not the only woman — in these boardrooms.
so much about discrimination, says Rosenberg, who acknowledges
that boards function best when members feel comfortable with
each other. “A board, to work, has to be collegial,”
she says. “You all have to have respect and confidence
in each other. But that doesn’t mean we all have to
be white, between the ages of 55 and 60, and male.”
the glass ceiling
Women face a number of challenges in gaining entrée
into this historically “all-boys network,” Rosenberg
says. Not only must they demonstrate the skills to be effective
board members, they must also fit into a traditionally male
social system — with few female role models to help
them negotiate the learning curve.
you’ve proven yourself, it opens the door to other opportunities,”
Rosenberg notes. “Once you’ve conducted yourself
in a way that makes the other board members comfortable, you
are deemed ‘safe’ for other boards.”
long been a forceful advocate for women in business. In addition
to her corporate duties, she is a director for the Chicago
Network, National Partnership for Women & Families, and
the Women’s Issues Network Foundation. Crain’s
Chicago Business has identified her as one of the “100
Most Influential People in Chicago.”
stepped down as Equity’s CEO, with the goal of spending
more time on issues important to her. At the top of her list
was increasing the number of women serving in leadership positions
and on corporate boards.
her ideas with Scott, whom she had known since the two served
together on the board of Illinova Corp. in the 1990s. The
pair found allies in Medvec and Shefsky, who already had approached
former Kellogg School Dean Donald P. Jacobs with the idea
of establishing a research center for women in business. Jacobs
agreed, and the Center for Executive Women was born, with
Rosenberg providing the initial funding.
Shefsky had identified
the need for the center early on, after spending years as
an attorney representing many female businesswomen and entrepreneurs.
The director of the Kellogg Center for Family Enterprise believed
that a Kellogg center for women in business would put the
school at the forefront of an irreversible trend. It was also,
he says, “the right thing to do.”
firsthand the extraordinary and often unique value that businesswomen
bring to the table,” says Shefsky, a clinical professor
of entrepreneurship and family enterprise.
been disappointing to see corporate America fail to convert
that great opportunity. It is an unrealized asset that could
prove a meaningful advantage in this globally competitive
thoughts were much the same. As CEO of IDS Financial Services
in the early 1980s, he had observed the influx of women into
the work force but noted that few, if any, reached positions
of real influence.
doing much of a job of getting them to the top levels,”
recalls Scott, a professor of management and a senior Austin
Fellow. He perceived that opening the doors to the executive
suite would be not only “morally right, but pragmatically
right. It would be a way of doubling the number of candidates
for a job.”
Scott sought to
recruit talented women to IDS and launched leadership development
programs for women already in the IDS ranks. He also tried
to place women in the sort of operational jobs that at the
time were held mainly by men.
found support within the organization, but they may have been
ahead of their time. “Undoubtedly, there were roadblocks
we may not have recognized,” Scott says.
Some of those roadblocks
may remain, but many have been swept away as women have moved
into the upper ranks in increasing numbers.
so many more women in significant positions than there were
10 or 20 years ago — in actual line positions, with
profit and loss responsibility,” notes Margery Kraus,
president and CEO of APCO Worldwide Inc. and a member of the
center’s steering committee.
boards are now more willing to welcome women as members, particularly
as firms cast their nets for candidates able to withstand
heightened scrutiny after the recent series of high-profile
was that initially, people were appointed to boards on the
basis of being a CEO or in an executive position, so you had
a much smaller pool of people to choose from if you were looking
to pull people from that area,” Kraus says.
see the same woman on five, six or seven different boards.
And she would be the one woman on the board. The thinking
would be, ‘We have our woman board member, our minority
board member, and now we can go back to choosing people that
look like us.’”
New laws requiring
“truly independent” board members have created
opportunities to expand the pool of candidates to include
more women and other underrepresented groups, Kraus says.
For Scott, the
center has arrived on the scene not a moment too soon.
was right for this 30 years ago,” Scott says. “But
now there’s a critical mass of women in middle management,
and the Center for Executive Women can make a real difference
in the opportunities for women at the top levels of management.”
information about the Center
for Executive Women, please call Cathy Taylor at 847-467-7107.