(Photo by by Giorgio Montersino)
Ladies, think rising to the top of the heap in Big Law is tough? Well, that’s kid stuff compared to scaling the heights of corporate America.
According a recent New York Times article, “An Elusive Jackpot,” there were only 11 women among the 200 highest-paid chief executives in the United States, a scant 5.5 percent of the total CEOs. Among members of this super-elite group, the median pay was $15.7 million—though high-flyers like Marissa Mayer (above) of Yahoo and Carol Meyrowitz of TJX Companies (owner of T.J. Maxx) made more: $24.9 and $20.7 million, respectively. (Fun facts: Mayer is No. 2 and Meyrowitz No. 3 on the list. The highest paid female CEO is SiriusXM’s Martine Rothblatt, who had a sex change after founding Sirius Satellite Radio; Rothblatt made $38 million.)
So what can women do to position themselves for one of these mistress of the universe gigs? The Times offers some succinct advice:
Get a job in tech, start at the highest-level job possible, work your way up to run a piece of the company’s business (meaning, don’t become the general counsel or head of human resources), work for a company with women on its board or among the chief-level executives known as the C-suite—and whatever you do, don’t quit.
Did you hear that? Ambitious women should avoid the GC job! Lawyers of both sexes might take umbrage at that suggestion, but I get the drift: Women need to make sure that they don’t get stuck in a service role.
The article explores the various reasons for the dearth of women at the very top, but focuses primarily on the impact of children on women’s careers. It notes that “the highest-earning female executives with small children spend 25.2 hours on child care per week, while the highest-earning male executives spend 10.2 hours.”
The article also suggests that women lose position and money when they seek flexibility in their jobs:
A major reason for the [pay] gap is women’s choosing more flexible hours to spend more time with children—and people do not generally rise to the very top by choosing flexible-hours jobs.
And here’s something that might shock lawyers: Business and finance are worse than law or medicine if you want balance in your lives, according to the Times. The result is that women don’t stick around to be considered for the top spots in the corporate sector.
So what’s the solution? The article says we might look at women in technology as a model. Though that field is notorious for being male dominated, women are making inroads because of the very fact that they are underrepresented, says the Times.
What’s more, technology offers a less conventional work style. Reports the Times:
Tech jobs generally tend to be more flexible about priorities outside work, especially for high-performing employees the companies do not want to lose. The result is a narrower pay gap in tech, along with other benefits for women.
Here’s the snag, as I see it: Flexibility seems to be awarded primarily to the superstars. For instance, Google agreed to pay Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, who was president of its Asia Pacific and Latin America operations, for her baby and nanny to travel with her on business trips around the world. Now CEO of Joyus, Singh Cassidy says: “Silicon Valley favors the rock star, including the female rock star, and once you’re there they do everything they can to keep women in the C-suite and promote them.”
But shouldn’t flexibility be available to everyone—not just the proven stars—if you want women to stay on? Ironically, Mayer also clamped down on flexibility when she took over at Yahoo, revoking employees’ option to work remotely. (Mayer installed a nursery for her baby next door to her office at Yahoo.)
The upshot seems that women still face a steep, uphill climb—no matter the field. The tiny group of women who make it are “the extraordinary ones, more so than the ones that rise to the top of larger group of men,” says economist George-Levi Gayle to the Times. “Men stick around longer and they basically wait out the women.”
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