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Will This Be the Year of the Female CEO?

March 4, 2015
Diversity & Inclusion
Patricia Arquette owned this year’s Oscars moment when her acceptance speech took a sharp turn into a rousing cry for pay equality. If you didn’t catch it live, you probably saw her speech (and Meryl Streep’s reaction) rippling through social media.
 
“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” she said. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
 
People can debate the delivery of her message and its implications to both the LGBT community and people of color, but there’s no denying that a wage gap exists based on gender in this country. According to the White House, full-time working women earn 77% of what their male peers earn.
 
Using data from the U.S. Labor Department, The Wall Street Journal recently broke down the pay gap within professions. According to these numbers, the widest gap in full-time weekly earnings was in the legal profession, where women earn just 56.7% of men working in the same occupation. Female chief executives earned 70%. Circling back to Hollywood, last year’s leaked Sony emails revealed that A-list actresses Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were paid less than their male co-stars for the film American Hustle.
 
No doubt there are numerous factors at play here, including family responsibilities…or more accurately, cultural perceptions of family responsibilities: consciously or subconsciously, an employer might assume that a woman (whether she has children or not) will have different priorities than a man.
 
In my opinion, there’s also a matter of our perception of leadership. Our society may see women as smart, capable, and hard-working, but not necessarily as leaders. There’s a general idea that a female lead can’t carry a Hollywood blockbuster to the same degree as a man.
 
As a women, mother, and CEO, I find this disheartening, but I do believe that cultural perceptions of women in leadership are shifting. In the past, female CEOs were often limited to selling products and services to other women. But today, we’re seeing women build great companies across all sectors and areas.
 
A report from Dow Jones VentureSource found that venture-backed companies with female senior executives were more likely to succeed. I have a few ideas why:
 
Women are strong communicators
Managing teams requires good communication skills and social intelligence – areas which numerous studies have shown women enjoy a slight edge over men. A Columbia Business School program teaches social intelligence, including how to read facial expressions and body language. “We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side,’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re advocating,” said Jamie Ladge, a business professor at Northeastern University.
 
Women are good listeners
A study documented in the Harvard Business Review found that the collective intelligence of a group rose if the group included more women. Professor Anita Woolley explained the findings: “What do you hear about great groups? Not that the members are all really smart but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic.” A strong ability to listen creates several advantages for entrepreneurs and leaders, as they are better attuned to the needs of customers, employees, and partners.
 
Women collaborate
In the earliest female enterprises, women worked together, such as dividing grains in the village and collaborating in quilting bees. Business is all about relationships, between customers, clients, and vendors. I have found that many women CEOs see building a business as building a team.
 
Women are pragmatic
Kevin O’Leary, an investor known as Mr. Wonderful on ABC’s Shark Tank, stated that he has made more money with women executives. “[Women] are more goal orientated in terms of setting targets and meeting them. If they say, ‘I am going to expand capacity or we’re going to increase distribution in the next quarter’, they deliver,” he explained. “It’s not an intuitive feeling. It’s actual hardcore results.”
 
More female business owners in 2015
According to the 2014 American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Business report, women are starting an average of 1,200 businesses a day (up from 740 a day in the 2013 report).
 
One promising factor is that the Internet has greatly reduced many of the upfront expenses needed to launch a business. This is going to continue to create more opportunities for a diverse group of people, and that includes women, to thrive as business leaders and bring their great ideas to the market.
 
My hope is that by the time my two daughters and two sons reach adulthood, we can stop talking about the number of female CEOs and the pay gap will be closed once and for all.
 
By Nellie Akalp
 

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