Reaching Critical Mass

About 25 years ago when I was interviewing women for my Working Women series of books, a top executive in a very large company told me that the only way the workplace would change to be more supportive of women was if the number of women executives reached critical mass.

She said, “When there is only one woman in corporate management or on a board of directors, she is generally ignored. When there are only two women, they often get played against each other so neither feels confident enough to make waves. But when there are three, you have critical mass. Then women can actually be heard, make changes and have a significant impact.”

The interesting thing is that we are still a long way away from “critical mass” in the workplace. One measure of this is the number of women on the boards of directors of the Fortune 100-1000 companies. A number of mostly nonprofit organizations have been keeping track of this for years. One is Women on Boards whose stated goal is to have all boards of directors to have 20% women by 2020. They have a great chart showing the changes between 2011-2014 for the Fortune 100, 500 and 1000 companies. The numbers have been inching up, especially in the Fortune 100 and we might get there. VIEW >> t

The ultimate goal, of course, is to have gender parity, which, if the modest upward trend continues, might happen somewhere around 2042! Today women currently hold 4.8% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. That means there are a grand total of 24 women CEOs there.

Does this mean that men in power are bad guys? Absolutely not. Most are totally unaware that they discriminate against women and are shocked when it is pointed out that their behavior could be seen as that. It comes back to something another woman executive related to me about the CEO she worked with explaining his hiring process for his team. He said, “You know, there is never a single best candidate for a job. What I always do is narrow the pool of qualified candidates down to the top two or three. And then I pick the one most like me.”