Ms. CEO: A Rare Commodity

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Working on Fifth Avenue at New York City is nothing short of glamorous. Every day, I walk to work on one of NYC’s most famous streets, cutting through Central park, walking by the Plaza, passing Saks and finally entering the headquarters of one of the largest beauty companies in the world to work on photoshoots and press kits while bumping into celebs (and their stylists) in the process.<

Finally being dropped into the “9-5” has me thinking a lot more about my future. What if I want to be the chief executive one day? How feasible is that? What would my income be?

Although it is possible for a woman to become a CEO, out of the “Fortune 500” (the USA’s 500 biggest publicly traded companies), only thirteen of those CEOs are female. That’s only 2.6%.

We’ve had our first female presidential and vice-presidential candidate in the past year and higher education for women is on the rise, yet women are still not holding top positions in companies. The cherry on top of all of this? Even the women who have managed to make their way to the top are still the worst paid out of all CEOs.

Aside from the incredible income disparities, the issue we should be focusing on is why women CEOs are such a rare commodity, not necessarily the size of the paychecks. In 2005, Sheila Wellington was interviewed by Anne Fisher (CNN Money) on this exact issue. Wellington was no stranger to gender discrimination; she was forced to sign an agreement when she accepted her first position after graduating from Radcliffe that stated that she must not get pregnant for at least her first two years.

Wellington went on to become the president of Catalyst, a non-profit research group and is now a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. When confronted with the question of the lack of female executives, Wellington stated, “I think we are in the midst of a cycle right now where there is a widespread perception that women aren’t fully committed to their careers. It tends to happen every time the spotlight is on a high-ranking woman who flames out, like [former Hewlett-Packard CEO] Carly Fiorina. You start hearing all kinds of people analyzing ‘what women are doing wrong.’”

Wellington goes on to say that the corporate perception of women must alter before women can reach high levels. She blames sexist perceptions such as, “women don’t like to travel” or “women don’t take risks” as platitudes that cloud judgment when hiring female executives. The antiquated mindset that females won’t succeed because of familial obligations, emotional reactions, high drama and lack of critical thinking hinders women from succeeding. Don’t think those perceptions are still out there? Just ask Neil French who resigned as WPP Group worldwide creative director after saying women in advertising “don’t make it to the top because they don’t deserve to.” This sentiment is common according to Wellington.

Does this mean that I can’t become a CEO one day? Working for a Fortune 500 has pushed my desire to do just that. But when I do get that position, do I have to give up my femininity, desire to have a family in the future, penchant for emotional outbursts once in a while, and indulging in guilty pleasures like Gossip Girl? I think not. The mentality around females in executive positions needs to be changed, not the female executives themselves.

Once the archaic stereotypes of women have left the workplace, then companies will realize that women are valuable assets in executive positions. It’s up to Gen Y to break those stereotypes, put much more than just cracks in the glass ceiling and finally finish construction on that bridge to somewhere.

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