Word Tuesday that General Motors has appointed product chief Mary Barra as its first female chief executive created a furor of headlines and some opportunities for business writers to do local follow-ups about female management (or lack thereof) at local and regionally headquartered corporations.
I think a fast local report on women chief executives and senior managers at key companies and employers in your market would be quite enlightening for readers; you could do this as a large graphic (complete with company logos, share price performance charts, vital stats like recent years’ revenue and income, etc.) rather than a prose story, and turn it into an online slide show. The Associated Press whipped up a national version quickly but localizing this would interest your audience.
The non-profit Catalyst.org tracks female leadership; it says only 4.5 percent of Fortune 1000 companies are led by women (A look at 23 women CEOs running Fortune 500 companies). The company’s site also offers other factoids and research papers about women and corporate governance.
Another way to approach the issue is to look at compensation, not only of CEOs but — how many women are featured in the highest-compensated executive list of last spring’s proxy statements for companies you cover?
Don’t forget about private companies; here’s an Inc. look at top female leaders. And I would also look at leadership of trade and professional associations and lobbying groups on the beats you cover; how are female leaders represented there? Who’s running your area’s biggest law firms, medical practices, accounting/consulting firms and advertising agencies, which often don’t make the business-news radar screens but are influential business players in any community.
Interestingly, a Dow Jones Venture Source report last year said that female-headed startups tend to be more successful – but that nevertheless only 20 percent of venture companies (start-ups) even have a woman in the C-suites let alone heading the business.
You also can talk with female executives about a variety of issues related to the career trajectory of women and how traditional caregiving and familial roles are applied to women’s professional image. For example, the New York Times piece about GM’s Barra noted in the seventh graf that she is “married and the mother of two children.” I dug around for similar articles (by other news outlets, couldn’t find the NYT’s) about the 2010 appointment to CEO of Barra’s predecessor, Daniel Akerson, and about Alan Mulally, who joined Ford Motor Co. as chief in 2006. No mention of the marital status or reproductive activities of those gentlemen.
And Reynolds Center Digital Director Robin Phillips pointed out this Bloomberg BusinessWeek report, which focuses less on Barra’s unique strengths than what she apparently “lacks” compared to male counterparts in the jobs. She’s “not a car guy,” according to some. Again, the question of how a woman executive is described and evaluated by peers and by industry watchers is quite eye-opening more than a decade into the 21st century, and excellent fodder for a Q&A, panel discussion or other non-prose format with female business leaders in your market.
Boards of directors are another area to look at, beyond a company’s senior management. How many boards of corporations (and influential non-profits in your area, like health systems, economic development corporations, universities and schools, philanthropic organizations and so on) feature female members; what’s the ratio of men to women, their tenure, etc.? We all know that Twitter recently got bopped on the beak for the lack of women on its originally proposed board; the newly public social media company hastily added one woman to its slate of directors to deflect criticism. Why does it take bad PR to make this happen? The problem is global; Europe is even considering quotas to boost more women into senior management and board membership.