ECONOMY

Women executives still too few

Statistics about women in executive positions globally are disappointing. Among the Fortune 500 companies, they are less than 14 percent of directors and, among FTSE-100, less than 10 percent. Just 8 percent of the top European companies have women as members of their governing boards, while only 5 percent of top executive staff are women; a depressing reality that may well continue with the forthcoming promotions to top jobs. In the US, the trend may be slightly on the rise – in Fortune 500 companies in 2001 in the US, 12.4 percent of governing boards members were women – but the following phenomenon is noted: A rather high portion (37 percent) of talented female executives choose to step out of the hierarchy and create their own businesses. One reason cited by an American company former vice-president was that «to reach the top you must possess some sort of killer instinct; and I am not aggressive enough to leave dead bodies behind me. I do not want to lose my values. And this should not be the only way (to the top).» Last month, the Financial Times’ Alison Maitland wrote about the forthcoming publication of a book by Peninah Thomson and Jacey Graham titled «A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom.» «The writers suggest that in big corporations, even the few women who reach the top often feel that the cultures they meet there leave them with scars.» Even when they have reached the second best spot, they often decide not to proceed, as the price they have to pay seems too big.» The two authors, aware of the obstacles career women often face, have specific advice to give to both sides – both the ambitious career women who plan to land on the company’s board as well as the companies themselves which must accomodate them «in order to limit their losses in the competitive domain and in governance due to the low participation of female talent and their prospects toward the top.» They call on women to seek and acquire experience in the financial and accounting sectors. They also ask them to «blow their own horn,» showing their colleagues that «I know how to do my job well.» Women must find the time to make contacts and learn to present their experiences: «Say what you want gracefully, but show some strength and keep any doubts you may have to yourselves.» Female high-flyers are also advised to show persistence. Should they succeed, however, they should know that it is lonely at the top. The two authors suggest to companies to count the number of women to have reached the top management tier and compare themselves with other companies. They should also revise their executive staff criteria and promotion process and decide to promote according to merit and not gender. They also need to ask «headhunters» to look for female executive staff who may not yet be on any list. Another piece of advice is «make sure you correctly read the messages women are sending out and should you spot a lack of self-confidence this does not necessarily mean a lack of ambition.» Special emphasis is placed on the value of mentoring, recommending encouragement to women heading toward top-level management. Mentoring on the rise The importance of mentoring and the effectiveness of its application, particularly in developing and promoting female executives, is increasingly being recognized in Greece. According to Greek firm Humans2go (www.humanstogo.gr), which is exclusively involved in coaching and mentoring, in every corporation there are people with worthwhile experience who can be chosen as in-house mentors. The mentored, usually women, are executives with rich development potential, either preparing as future leaders or are newly hired who must acquire the mentor’s skills. Once they are chosen and paired with a mentor, the company can begin a program to train them for their post and executes an action plan that is monitored through to the end result which is also then evaluated. The Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) also promotes the EU project known by the acronym IMPLEMENT (Integrated Mentoring Plan for the Local Effective Management of Employment) and invites company officials who are interested in training as mentors. For information contact tel 210.338.2365 or email: [email protected] A successful mentor must possess knowledge and skills on the subject, strategic planning, problem solving, administration, plan realization and evaluation. A high education level and reliability are also essential.