Trish Summerhayes

More Women in Leadership

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I have just sold my private home care business after spending a lifetime nursing and caring for others. During that time I have also been a wife, a mother and a grandmother. I was a "ban the bomber" in London in the sixties and a part of the back to earth movement of the seventies here on Vancouver Island. These experiences have made me who I am. I am me. I am an Island Woman.

Last week we got closer than ever before to electing the first woman President, and millions of young girls across the country have been emboldened to dream even bigger and see no role as out of their reach.

Despite the progress made by Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy, the campaign has forced us to reckon with issues of gender bias that emerged in the national dialogue – from tone of voice, to stamina, to what a leader “looks” like, to how the media covers gender. The sadness, anger, and motivation that women across the country are now dealing with are familiar, as we have been experiencing these systemic challenges in corporate America for decades.

Women are still underpaid and underrepresented in the leadership of every sector. Yet women today make up half of the workforce in the U.S.—and drive 70 to 80 percent of all consumer spending. We can’t afford to keep women out of leadership positions, or we will miss huge social and business opportunities.

We might hope that in 2016 that if a woman overcomes all obstacles to be hired as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, then she would be evaluated fairly and held to similar standards as her male counterparts. But that is sadly not the case, particularly when it comes to how women CEOs are covered in the media.

We at The Rockefeller Foundation recently conducted a new analysis of how male and female CEOs are covered in the media. The analysis looked at the tone, language, and sentiment of media coverage about male and female CEOs—from hiring and firing announcements to stories about leadership styles in a crisis.

What we found was shocking, but not surprising to many of us who have long suspected that women in leadership are treated differently than men. Here are some of our findings.

  • Of the articles we analyzed, 49 percent mentioned gender when the piece was about a female CEO—while only 4 percent mentioned gender when the piece was about a male CEO.
  • Articles focusing on female CEOs were more likely to discuss their personal lives than those focused on male CEOs— double the number of articles about female CEOs talked about their personal life, compared to the articles about male CEOs.
  • When discussing a female CEO’s personal life, 78 percent of the articles mentioned family. None of the articles analyzed discussed a male CEO’s children or family. Instead, these articles highlighted a male CEO’s background, personal plans for retirement, post-career ambitions, or their social life.
  • And when evaluating articles written about CEOs during a time of crisis, 80 percent blamed the female CEO compared to only 31 percent that cited the male CEO as the source of blame.

These findings aren’t unique to our analysis—other research paints a picture that is just as concerning. Of the 50 women who have held the position of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies through 2014, 42 percent were appointed during times of crisis, compared with 22 percent of men in the same period—making their chances of success less likely.

And research shows that it’s nearly impossible for these women CEOs to transition to another CEO role at a different company on the heels of crisis. The same cannot be said when talking about men.

This is all to say that gender parity, particularly in the workplace, needs to be treated as an urgent priority. Women bring different perspectives and approaches to business—the truth is that as much as women need and deserve jobs in leadership, our companies need women. And not just to fill a diversity quota, but because diversity drives success by bringing different perspectives to bear on the world’s greatest challenges.

And to achieve that diversity we need women in the highest-level positions—as CEOs. When the private sector is more inclusive at the top, it won’t just be the private sector that benefits— the benefits will permeate every level of individual companies, as well as the broader economy.

As part of The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100×25 initiative – which has a goal of 100 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies by 2025 –  we have been working with key stakeholders—including C-suite executives, corporate directors, executive search consultants, and institutional investors—to challenge some of the real and perceived barriers to progress, and find ways to keep more women in the pipeline to the C-suite.

The ability of companies to identify women earlier in the pipeline and provide the training, opportunity, and support needed to move into the highest ranks of the organization is becoming a focus area for us. We’re looking to identify and design tools to help women who are ripe for leadership development.

We’re working to redefine the qualifications needed to serve on a corporate board so that boards become more inclusive of diverse skills, experiences, and talents.

We’re talking directly to CEOs and female executives to better understand what kind of support they need as they work toward gender parity in their companies.

Women deserve—and have earned—a greater say in the future of work, and 100×25 aims to push the conversation forward by bringing together different perspectives, challenging our own assumptions, and sharing new stories and ideas.

I encourage you to think about what you can do within your own organizations to help advance gender parity and help create more leadership opportunities for women and girls.

downloadJudith Rodin,
President at The Rockefeller Foundation






Trish Summerhayes. Publisher Island Woman magazine, Vancouver Island BCPatricia M. Summerhayes.
Island Woman Magazine.

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