The Corner Office: Where the “Girls” Are

1964 New York World's Fair

DuPont at the 1964 New York World's Fair

There was a 1960’s coming of age movie about four Midwestern guys titled “Where the Boys Are.” Funny and clever for its time, it was also laden with stereotypical models of life – including the roles of women and men – of that era.

If you squint (“Really hard,” some of my colleagues would suggest) there is a different plot playing out in the corporate world in the United States today. Not where the men are, but where the women are.

Some twelve (“Just 12?colleagues would say) Fortune 500 companies are now headed by Chief Executive Officers who are female. The numbers are not-so-hot. What I do find encouraging is the types of companies that those CEOs run. Here, via Catalyst, is the list from November 2010 of the Fortune 1000 companies headed by women:

Fortune 500 (12 CEOs)

Fortune 501-1000 (14 CEOs)

Most of these companies are what the guy on the street would call “guy” companies, as in hard physical work companies – the type of companies that make  or distribute industrial products, have big machines someplace, and have people who are both blue and white collar; ADM, PepsiCo, Hawaii Electric, DuPont (DuPont!), Xerox, Kraft, etc.

It’s not just companies that are fashion retailers and beauty products makers (calling Mary Kay) – these companies headed by CEOs who are female are business icons of the United States.

While the numbers are low, you can almost sense a shift by the types of firms run by women, and the modeling impact that those leaders will have on the next decade of male and female leaders. Michigan’s Scott Page, for example, has shown in his research that diverse organizations are stronger, and more productive than non-diverse organizations. If you believe good research – which I do – the qualities that these female leaders bring should be replicated based on their downstream success. For people like the Esther Morris‘ of the world, a little “I can do that” is all it takes.

It is true that you could still rent Moscone Center, put all the female CEOs of major high tech and bio-pharma companies on the event center floor, shoot a cannon through the hall and not really worry about hitting anyone (Carol Bartz, Yahoo, Stephanie DiMarco, Advent Software, and a longer list of women whose companies are mostly early stage.)

But, as singer Sam Cooke suggested about another societal revolution, “A change gon’ come.”

Just squint and you might be able to see it.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.