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Catalyst Study Finds Women Need Experience in the Business of the Business to Claim Top Leadership Roles

Women Want to Be at the Top and CEOs Agree

Seven years after Catalyst’s groundbreaking study defining the barriers and success factors for women in corporate America, Catalyst’s new study Women in U.S. Corporate Leadership: 2003 finds senior women and CEOs finally agree women have been in business long enough to climb the corporate ladder to success. They also agree that a major obstacle for women is not getting the key business experiences that will allow them to claim the top positions.

“In this study, Catalyst found overall that women are satisfied with their current positions, employers, compensation and other key aspects of their jobs,” said Catalyst President Sheila Wellington. ”Women are not yet claiming the corner office because they are not getting experience in the business of the business. This is the key that will unlock the doors for women throughout corporate America.”

“Women are still challenged when searching for a mentor,” Wellington continued. “They report feeling excluded from informal networks of communication and facing stereotypes and preconceptions about their abilities and commitment.”

This new study shows that more than one-half (55 percent) of women who are not already in the most senior leadership positions desire to be there and another 19 percent have not ruled it out. CEOs recognize this ambition. In 2003, only 11 percent of CEOs and eight percent of women cite a lack of desire to reach senior levels as a top barrier to women’s advancement.

Sponsored by the General Motors Corporation, the study looks at the experiences and perceptions of women at the Vice President level or above in Fortune 1000; compares their responses to those of Fortune 1000 CEOs; and contrasts these findings to those in the 1996 study.

Top findings from Women in U.S. Corporate Leadership: 2003 are featured in the June issue of the Harvard Business Review, “What’s Holding Women Back?”

According to the study, women in 2003 and women in 1996 cite the same barriers to women’s advancement to senior leadership levels: lack of general management or line experience: exclusion from informal networks; and stereotyping and preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities. CEOs and women agree that in order to move forward senior leaders need to assume accountability for women’s advancement.

Some of these measures for leaders should include acting as a role model; demonstrating continuous commitment to inclusion by action; giving women high-visibility, high-impact career opportunities, and supporting them in those assignments.

Catalyst research also found that overall women and CEOs agree a lack of profit and loss experiences is the biggest barrier to preventing women from rising to the top of corporations. Interestingly, however, the two disagree when it comes to how women get to the top.

CEOs remain much more likely than women to point out the need for certain types of managerial experiences. In addition to getting specific skills, women know they need to adapt and be included in informal networking. If women and CEOs can better understand both aspects then a greater opportunity exists for accelerating the rise of senior-level women working within the Fortune 1000.

The sponsor of this study is the General Motors Corporation.