Commentary by Dr. Hema Krishnan, associate dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
As business executive Indra Nooyi raised her two daughters, she often had them spend time in her office, doing homework and being exposed to her workplace. Now, Nooyi is chief executive officer of PepsiCo, and she is nurturing an environment where other employees can balance their personal lives and work too, something business journalist Debbie Brannigan explained on her website, Capitalist Chicks.
Nooyi’s rise to the top of one of the United States’ largest companies – and the continued rise of other women – is one of the most exciting developments for working women in the 21st century. The past three years have been especially rewarding for high-achieving women in the political, corporate and scientific spheres with Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State, appointments of other women CEOs such as Irene Rosenfeld at Kraft and Patricia Woertz at Archer Daniels and the 2009 Nobel Prizes in Medicine, Chemistry and Economics being awarded to women.
Several studies have shown that increasing the number of women on top corporate management teams has a positive impact on companies’ financial performance. This is because women bring a unique set of talents and competencies to their jobs. They are more likely to emphasize harmony and team work, more likely to give credit to their peers and subordinates, more likely to share power and knowledge, and are better learners. Also, their multi-tasking abilities serve businesses well in these times of uncertainty and information explosion.
Unfortunately, even as women have ascended the top ranks of businesses in large numbers, I found in a three-year study that the turnover rate of top female executives is almost twice the turnover rate for male executives. In functions such as marketing, operations and law, the turnover is even higher -- 50 percent. The factors that lead to turnover among female executives include barriers to socialization along the path to the executive suite, feelings of exclusion from the “old boys” network that is prevalent in large organizations, lack of proper mentors, challenges faced in balancing the demands of family and work, and rigid and hierarchical organizational systems in companies that offer little room for work-family flexibility.
Some women leave for better opportunities in rival firms, at universities, or in government, notably those women with graduate degrees, and women who have experience in line functions such as operations or marketing, or in specialized functions such as law, research and development and engineering. Such women are perceived very favorably in the business community and, consequently, are likely to be aggressively wooed by other companies and institutions.
This turnover should be of grave concern to companies because an exodus from the corporate suite can have an adverse impact on business performance. It can lead to low morale among rank-and-file employees, loss of valuable human talent, and a perception in the business community that the culture in these companies is dysfunctional.
In light of these developments, what, then, are the key points for young women seeking to obtain and retain coveted positions in business, law and politics, or as academics and researchers in the social and physical sciences?
For young women, it is important that they give a high priority to hard work and education, and women who are already in the workforce should invest their time in getting advanced degrees so that they are poised to land positions that offer a smoother path to the corporate suite. Universities are becoming very flexible nowadays and leading schools are offering masters and other advanced degree programs in the evening hours and on weekends to accommodate the needs of working professionals. Also, women who are well-established in their careers need to mentor other women, create more opportunities for career development, and provide a flexible work environment so that family and work are seen as complementary rather than conflicting. Many successful women entrepreneurs in the country are leading the way by creating a more holistic climate in their companies that emphasizes team work, empowerment, and work-family integration. Finally, with the emergence of the health and alternate energy industries, where team work, creativity and entrepreneurship and care for the environment are valued, there are tremendous opportunities for women -- with their unique management and leadership styles -- to take advantage of the opportunities in those industries.
With women being appointed to top jobs in large corporations, it’s clear they’re making a difference. Now, it’s up to the corporations to find way to keep them there.
Dr. Hema Krishnan, associate dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati, is the author of a study in the Journal of Business Research, addressing the causes of turnover among women on top corporate management teams. The full study can be found here: Dr. Hema Krishnan, associate dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati, is the author of a study in the Journal of Business Research, addressing the causes of turnover among women on top corporate management teams. The full study can be found here: