Women CEOs Sure Have It Tough



You’ve come a long way, but you still have a long way to go. And the road is hard and rocky.

According to recent research by Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, companies run by women CEOs are disproportionately targeted by shareholder activists. Conversely, similar companies run by male CEOs have a near-zero chance of being targeted, according to Christine Shropshire, associate professor of management at ASU.

One high-profile example is of course Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer’s tangles with Starboard Value LP, the New York hedge fund run by Jeff Smith.

Another study found that women at management positions are confronted with a tougher ethics environment at work than their male counterparts.

And while pay for female CEOs is rising, their numbers remain miniscule. Women run only 4.4 percent of S&P 500 companies, and less than 1 percent of new CEOs in the U.S. are female. Moreover, women are obtaining less than 3 percent of new CEO positions worldwide.

Nonetheless, women must forge on.

“We are here—in numbers, and we are qualified—in numbers,” said Mary Jo White, the tough-as-nails chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

White, who spoke those words in a November 2015 speech, is a trailblazer in gender equality. She was the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. She also was the first woman to serve on the board of Nasdaq.

The subject of White’s speech was board diversity. However, she linked the importance of CEO diversity to board diversity in an earlier address. “CEO or CFO experience is often used as a qualification for board consideration, so we also need to remain focused on increasing representation of women in senior-level corporate positions if we are to succeed in raising boardroom representation,” the SEC chair said in 2014. “I hope that one day soon it will be completely commonplace for women to hold meaningful positions in the senior ranks of corporate America, including as members--and leaders--of corporate boards.”