Egon Zehnder International, the executive search firm, has looked at the background of the CEOs in the FT’s ranking of the top 50 women in world business. All but three share one crucial attribute: they’ve had hands-on management experience.
This puts them in a minority even among women in business. A separate EZI study of female executive directors in Europe shows over 70 per cent are in support functions, such as finance, human resources or marketing. Yet line management is the route to the top. For instance, the FT’s number 6, Ursula Burns, started in various assistant roles at Xerox but used the role of vice-president of global manufacturing as a stepping stone to the CEO job.
Having been chief marketing officer or chief financial officer (a role held by increasing numbers of women, it seems), is no block to advancement, but a stint in line management looks to be an essential stopover on the winding route to the summit. Why aren’t there more women on this path? Evelyne Sevin, head of Egon Zehnder’s global diversity council, says:
Women may find it particularly hard to move around the world running businesses in different countries…. Many are effectively ineligible for the very top despite having made it as high-flying executives with a seat on the board.
(Egon Zehnder supplied the data for the FT’s ranking of the Top 50 Women in World Business)