The Glass Hammer: 2013, A Year in Review

Nicki HeadshotBy Nicki Gilmour, Founder and CEO of The Glass Hammer

The Glass Hammer wants to congratulate the women who have broken the glass ceiling by joining the C-suite or becoming Executive Officers at Fortune 500 (US), FTSE 100 (UK), and other globally-listed companies on stock exchanges this year. Special congratulations are in order for the highest profile CEO female joiners featured on the 2013 Fortune, including Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin, Mary Barra, CEO of GM motors, and Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy.

The achievements of these women become even more impressive in light of recent findings reported in Catalyst’s end-of-year census. Both the 2013 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Board Directors and the 2013 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Executive Officers and Top Earners found that number of women on boards and the number of women executive officers have not increased by even a single percentage point in the past year. In 2012, women held only 16.6 percent of board seats. In 2013, it was 16.9 percent. Last year, women held 14.3 percent of executive officer positions. In 2013, women held 14.6 percent. There was also no gain year over year, as women held only 8.1 percent of Executive Officer top earner slots.

The UK is showing a better rate of gains for women on Boards, with the current figure sitting at 19 percent in the FTSE 100 . Also, 24 percent of all appointments since May have been women.

So, despite more women than ever before being in the workforce, the numbers just aren’t moving. This is not to say that women aren’t gaining ground in other areas, but they’re often in the most battered of companies and industries. This comes as no surprise. The Glass Hammer has written extensively about women taking on the mantle of leadership during a time of crisis, otherwise known as the “glass cliff”. Writer Melissa Anderson outlined the pitfalls of “think female, think crisis” astutely, writing, “The position is highly visible and comes with a lot of potential power – but the risk of failure is high; so high in fact, that the board or management committee decides it’s time to try something completely new and different to try and get it right: put a woman in charge.”

Here’s the question that begs answer: why are the numbers stagnant?

What is Stopping Us?
According to the article “More women leaders in D.C. than C suite”, experience is more crucial in business than it is in American politics. In the piece, Herminia Ibarra, professor of organizational behavior at France’s Insead business school, said that to become CEO of a big company, you typically have to have had several key jobs. The professor cited Ginni Rometty, chair and CEO of IBM, and Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo, as examples of women who held senior management seats before the leap into the C-suite.

Some may continue to argue that the stagnant numbers are a pipeline issue, but personally, I disagree. The Glass Hammer alone has managed to profile over 1,000 accomplished and ambitious women, giving the clear indication that there are plenty of able women out there. In my opinion it’s not the pipeline; it’s how women are perceived in relation to performance and experience. Making the issue more frustrating for women is that these perceptions are out of their control. The Glass Hammer has written about the issues surrounding masculine corporate culture and academic research surrounding the common practice of “think manager, think male” shows that we believe men are better managers generally as a group, failing to judge them as individuals.

This year, I truly began to understand how important visibility is as an expert, especially when I found myself in the company of the founders of the Women’s Media Center, including Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan and pouring through the Center’s report “The Status of Women in the Media in the US 2013”, which found that only 25 percent of experts who appear on Sunday morning news shows are women. While it’s true that we need to speak up more, society needs to give us room to talk about something other than babies, work-life balance, and perhaps we could all examine the gendered nature of jobs in HR departments.

The good news is that these paradigms of who gets to be in charge can shift with the assistance of women and men, if they are willing to put in the work required to help them override life-long, deeply-rooted assumptions. If you want to know more about how this works, take the Harvard Implicit Bias test.

The Good, The Bad, & The New Year
Even when women get to the top, there is still a lot to tackle. The lack of equality when it comes to compensation is clearly an area of concern. Assuming that the top jobs are similar when it comes to task and responsibility, why are women only 8.1 percent of top earners? The good news is that of the 15 women out of every 100 execs who are at the highest levels, 50 percent of them are top earners, suggesting that they are getting what’s due to them. The bad news, of course, is that there are so few women in these top-earning positions that these numbers are benchmarks at best. The pipeline is not translating into the promotion of very talented women.

As is the case every year, there’s a lot to be thankful for and also, so many reminders of how far we still have to go. In 2014, the Glass Hammer will remain committed to honoring the achievements of women and shining a spotlight on all that hinders our progress. Best of Luck in the New Year, here’s hoping next year’s numbers are more promising.