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Gender issues addressed at FEI women's forum.

The Plaza Hotel in New York City was the venue in March for FEI's Executive Women's Networking Forum, featuring The Plaza's fabled "high tea." Over 30 executive women in finance attended, from organizations as diverse as the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., State Street Corp. and The Canadian Wheat Board.

Dr. Meryle Maher Kaplan, the keynote speaker, discussed "Success Strategies for Executive Women." Kaplan is vice president of Advisory Services for Catalyst, the leading research and advisory organization working to advance women in business. A respected authority on diversity, Kaplan detailed Catalyst's study, "The Bottom Line: Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity," which establishes a persuasive link between business performance and diversity at the upper levels of management.

Examining 353 Fortune 500 companies, Catalyst found a connection between gender diversity and financial performance, measured both in return on equity (ROE) and total return to shareholders (TRS). ROE and TRS were found to be 35.1 percent and 34.0 percent higher, respectively, among companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams.

Kaplan expounded on other realities facing women in Corporate America. The Catalyst model reveals that while women represent 50.3 percent of management, professional and related occupations, there is a sharp drop-off for senior management positions, with women representing only 15.7 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers. Women figured in just 5.2 percent of the Fortune 500 top earners and only nine of the Fortune 500 CEOs. Why so few? She looked at aspiration, success strategies and barriers. Aspirations to the CEO position are not the issue, she said, with 55 percent of executive women aspiring to that position versus 57 percent of executive men. Nor are are success strategies the issue. Across four key parameters: exceeding performance expectations, successfully managing others, seeking high-visibility assignments and having recognized expertise, women scored virtually as high as men.

Barriers, Kaplan said, are the issue. She looked at barriers common to both men and women, such as lack of line experience, style different from the norm and lack of awareness of organizational politics, and found those not significantly more difficult for women than men. But there are additional barriers women face, where the difference is startling.

For instance, exclusion from informal networks is a barrier that affects 46 percent of executive women versus only 18 percent of their male counterparts. Gender-based stereotypes are faced by 46 percent of executive women and only 5 percent of executive men. Forty-three percent of women lack role models at the executive level, versus just 13 percent of men. And an inhospitable corporate culture hurts 24 percent of women, versus 13 percent of men. Barriers are even steeper, Kaplan said, for women of color, for whom lack of networking, mentors, sponsorship, role models and high visibility affect a very high percentage.

Women and men scored very similarly on the work/life balance issue. Roughly half of men and women found it difficult to achieve a balance, and three-quarters of both were comfortable with the tradeoffs they had to make for their careers. Indeed, among both men and women, those who placed an equal priority on work and personal lives, were less stressed and had an easier time managing work and personal demands.

Kaplan said it's senior management's responsibility to effect change, and that senior management should include women.

--Karen Lundquist, FEI Senior Manager, Marketing and Communications
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Title Annotation:events
Author:Lundquist, Karen
Publication:Financial Executive
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:May 1, 2005
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