Harvard Asks “Why So Few Women CEOs?” and Publishes the Answer

The Numbers

Meg Whitman is the only woman in Harvard Business Review’s landmark study ranking the 100 best performing CEOs. Of the 2000 companies examined only 29 were headed by women. HBR then posted an article asking “Why so Few?” My reply appeared in the March print edition. The full text of the response appears below.

This Discussion Needs to be Reframed

What criteria determine

  • Best performing companies?
  • Best performing CEOs?

Do they include

  • Social or environmental good vs harm?
  • Building strong families and communities?
  • Raising moral standards?

Under what cultural rules are they determined?

As long as the frame for determining “the best” is built on assumptions of the predominant culture, those deemed successful will for the most part be members of that predominant group.

Women Are Building a New Frame

Women in business are changing the culture, the rules and the way we measure business and CEO success. Consider Andrea Jung’s mission for AVON – “To improve the lives of women globally.”

It may take a while but we’ll get there. Harvard Business Review may see the light someday but is not currently a leader in transforming how we define successful businesses and the leaders who create them. If they were, we’d have a different list based on different criteria and more women would be included.

Please share your thoughts – agree, disagree, raise a different point.


Other items of interest:


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8 Responses to Harvard Asks “Why So Few Women CEOs?” and Publishes the Answer

  1. Lee carey March 14, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    the shareholders have to add the meaninful metrics beyond profit to which they will hold the Board od Directors responsible

    • Anne March 14, 2010 at 11:54 am #

      Thanks Lee. Good point. I look at a company board of directors and executive staff before buying stock and have written letters of praise or its opposite in response to women or lack thereof on executive teams and boards.

  2. Laura Daley April 3, 2010 at 9:06 am #

    I think criteria is an interesting change point. Do we change the criteria that we use to describe, “Successful?” Possibly consider Daniel Pink’s thoughts from Drive-Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose-employee engagement and satisfaction.

    • Anne April 4, 2010 at 7:58 am #

      Thanks Laura – Let’s see what criteria Harvard Business Review comes up with next year.

  3. Paul (MiNutrition) McConaughy April 3, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    I just hope that the reason the number of women who are CEO’s changes because women in leadership have forced the criteria to change. The last thing we need is to keep the criteria the same and force women to change to meet them. Let’s face it – the criteria we have resulted in the leaders we have and many of them are the problem, not the solution.

    • Anne April 4, 2010 at 7:56 am #

      Paul – I think and hope we’ve completed the phase of pioneering women who sensed they had to lead like men. I had a wonderful male teacher, guide, and guru of sorts who said women leading like men results in a “poor facsimile of something that hasn’t proven to be all that great.” I, like you, believe we are in dire need of the other 1/2, the feminine. It’s not that we don’t need the masculine, but that it’s been the only game in town for too long. And it’s time to emphasize the other half so both can be integrated. According to my research with 50 seasoned leaders (male and female) feminine attributes including emotional savvy, intuitive thinking, collaboration, and community building are more valued today as compared to 15 years ago. I think we are on our way to achieving a more whole integrated leadership paradigm. Maybe next year even Harvard Business Review will set different criteria for Best CEOs.

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