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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit www.ft.com/womenatthetop


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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.

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Andrew Hill

Thanks for reading the FT Women at the Top blog.

We’re taking a break from blogging here, but coverage of women in business will continue in the main body of the FT and on FT.com, as well as on the FT Women at the Top page, which we will update with regular online features. You can also watch our video interviews with top businesswomen there and see our interactive ranking of the Top 50 Women in World Business 2011. Past posts to this blog will stay archived on this page.

Let me thank you, on behalf of the FT, for your comments and encouragement. If you wish to make suggestions for the next phase of our coverage, please leave comments under this post, or, if you prefer, via email to Hugo Greenhalgh, Editor, Special Reports (Magazines & Websites) at hugo.greenhalgh@ft.com.

In the meantime, best wishes for the holiday season from all of us at the FT.

Liz Bolshaw

’Tis the season, not of mists, but of lists: 12 days of Christmas; three kings; 10 most valuable chief executives.

George Paz (chief executive of St Louis-based pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts), Steve Jobs (the late chief executive of Apple) and Louis Camilleri (Philip Morris International) all feature in the top 10 of an end-of-year ranking of chief executives (rated by how much wealth they have created for their companies). There are no prizes for guessing what is missing.

In fact you have to scroll down to number 111 before you find a female chief executive – Carol Meyrowitz, of TJX, the discount retailer, and 14th in the FT’s top 50 women in business.

The list, compiled by Chief Executive, the US magazine, ranks chief executives of Fortune 500 companies by a set of financial performance metrics including total shareholder return, for the 36 months to June 30 2011 and ranks only those who have been in post for the whole three years.

In spite of all the efforts to support women’s careers, and all the research that shows diversity to be a performance advantage, the fact remains that too few women are making it to the top.

Research by Catalyst, a non-profit organisation focusing on women and work issues, discussed here, reveals that only 3.2 per cent of the chief executives of Fortune 500 companies are women – 17 of the 500. In fact the percentage of female chief executives of Fortune 500 companies has increased only from 0.2 per cent in 1995 to 3.2 per cent today.

Change takes time. In 1890 no woman on the planet had a vote, and it took a century for universal suffrage to spread to 96 per cent of countries (1994).

This is my 168th post for this blog since we launched on October 13 last year. In that time I have written some 60,000 words on the general subject of diversity and women in leadership and interviewed academics, researchers, chief executives and policymakers. There is far more consensus than disagreement: only the question of compulsory quotas has engendered real debate.

We have learnt that even in countries that have significantly broadened women’s access to high-paid positions, this does not necessarily translate into the boardroom. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010), women occupy more than 50 per cent of high-paying management and professional positions, but just 16.1 per cent of board seats.

We have also discovered there is no correlation between economic development and diversity. In Europe, where not quite 12 per cent of board members are female, women hold 17 per cent of board positions in Bulgaria and Latvia.

As I watch the mounting excitement of my sons and daughter as Christmas approaches, I hope that by the time they make their career choices a decade from now, this blog will appear a quaint irrelevance.

Happy holidays to all our readers.

 

Rebecca Knight

Women climbing the corporate ladder are often told to find a mentor to help them get ahead in the workplace. But how exactly does one do this?

For some insight, I spoke to Lois Zachary, author of The Mentor’s Guide. The book first came out 10 years ago, and her publisher, Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley, has just rereleased an updated edition. She told me:

“Because of our multitasking, time-crunched lives, we often reduce mentoring to transactions, but mentoring is really about a relationship. The mentee has to be an active participant in the process.”

Zachary said there are number of concrete steps to take in your search for a mentor.

“The purpose of mentoring is to learn, so women first need to ask themselves: what do I want to learn? Having a mentor is not about getting a promotion, it’s about becoming more promotable.”

Then, set goals. “Women get so locked into the ‘do’ that we forget about the ‘think’. I spend a lot of time with female entrepreneurs. They’re so busy working in the business that they forget to work ‘on’ the business,” she says, adding that men aren’t as susceptible to this behaviour. “Women are caretakers; it’s harder for us to let go.”

Based on your goals, create criteria for your ideal mentor. These can be points such as a sales track record of X, or the ability to meet with you face-to-face, or perhaps you are only looking for another woman as your mentor. Then, use your network to find possible candidates.

Beware of the allure of “good chemistry”, she says. “Chemistry is overrated. It’s seductive. If you click with someone, you might think, ‘They would be a great mentor,’ but they might not teach you what you need to learn.”

Zachary says the notion that powerful women are less willing to mentor young women is false. (Some female bosses have the reputation of being “queen bees” who distance themselves from other women at the office, and rather than promote junior counterparts, refuse to help them rise through the ranks. The incorrect presumption is that they think: “If I did it without any help, why can’t other women?”) Zachary adds:

“That’s probably a generational difference. I work with women’s groups all the time. I find that they are very supportive of one another. The women who are leaving the workforce now understand that it took blood, sweat, and tears for them to get there, and they want to leave the workforce a better place.”

 

Liz Bolshaw

There have been many studies showing women’s disproportionately low participation in entrepreneurship and their poor access to capital and networks, but a report published this week is the first to give a comprehensive picture of the state of female entrepreneurship worldwide.

(more…)

Rebecca Knight

Some say the best way to help a woman rise up the corporate ranks is to pair her with a seasoned mentor who will bestow his knowledge and share his hard-earned experience with her. But Beth Brooke, global vice-chairwoman of public policy at Ernst & Young, doesn’t buy it.  (more…)

Rebecca Knight

Alyse Nelson is the president and chief executive of Vital Voices, a Washington, DC-based group that trains female civic and business leaders in emerging economies. (more…)

Liz Bolshaw

A recent study by Washington-based Corporate Women Directors International shows the impact of quotas on increasing the diversity of company boards in Europe. (more…)

Rebecca Knight

Most of us have seen the pop-art cartoon before, either on a refrigerator magnet or a T-shirt. It’s a Roy Lichtenstein spoof of a woman smacking her forehead and saying: “Oh my God! I forgot to have children!” A tear drips from one corner of her eye. (more…)

Liz Bolshaw

Had her family circumstances been different, Monique Leroux might have been a concert pianist. Instead, she is the first woman to be elected chairwoman, president and chief executive of Desjardins Group, Canada’s largest – and the world’s sixth largest – credit union, or co-operative financial group. (more…)

Rebecca Knight

In the Women at the Top blog, we dedicate a lot of electronic ink to the reasons for the lack of female representation in upper management and executive positions: a dearth of women role models, too few companies with family-friendly policies, straight-up discrimination – to name just a few. But one reason we’ve hardly touched on is the healthy male ego and the obstacle that it poses to women trying to get ahead.  (more…)

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