By Sarah Stewart Taylor
Tuesday, March 20, 2001
The first examination of the number of women in the corporate suites of media companies reveals a disturbingly familiar pattern: The powerful upper reaches of power, prestige and perquisites are still rarely reached by women.
(WOMENSENEWS)--While the women's movement has improved opportunities for women in many arenas of American life, there's one place it's had little impact: In the executive suites and boardrooms of America's telecommunications and media companies.
That's the conclusion of a study entitled "Progress or No Room at the Top? The Role of Women in Telecommunications, Broadcast, Cable and E-Companies," released last week in Washington by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
According to the baseline study, which will be updated annually, only 13 percent of the top executives of media, telecommunications and e-companies are women. Further, women make up only 9 percent of the members of these companies' boards of directors, and, in looking at executives with so-called clout titles, jobs with considerable power, women make up only 3 percent.
No comparable data is available for the newspaper industry.
In comparison, in corporate America, 12.5 percent of corporate officers in the nation's 500 largest companies are women, according to the 2000 census by Catalyst, a nonprofit promoting women in business. In corporate America, however, women have twice as many clout titles, 6.2 percent. Catalyst and the Annenberg study limited clout titles to chief executive officer, vice chairman, president, chief operating officer, senior executive vice president and executive vice president. Two women were chief executive officers for Fortune 500 in 2000.
The Annenberg study was released as a new Census Bureau report indicated that American women are still dramatically underrepresented among top earners in all fields.
"This is Women's History month and it's useful to look back and see how far we've progressed," said Federal Communications Commissioner Susan Ness in a panel discussion on the report at the National Press Club Wednesday. "I was anxious to see how many women would be coming in as heads of companies. I was really disappointed."
The report found that women in the brick-and-click companies do no better than elsewhere. Women comprise 16 percent of executives at the new, Internet-based companies, but only 3 percent of executives with clout titles and only 4 percent of board members.
"I found no good news," said Leo J. Hindery Jr., another panelist and chairman of HL Capital, Inc., a private investment and charitable organization. Hindery said he had "prayed we'd find in e-media that things were better, but it's no less pitiful."
A noted media critic, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the study, said she was profoundly disappointed with the report's conclusions. Jamieson is the Walter H. Annenberg dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Jamieson added that the broadcasting and telecommunications companies were "overlooking one major resource-women"
The reasons for the vast under-representation of women in the upper levels of media and communications companies vary from outright sexism to more subtle factors, panelists said.
"Women are not given the roles and experience from an operating perspective to be able to lead companies," said panelist Maggie Wilderotter, president and chief executive officer of California-based Wink Communications, Inc. She said that women are frequently passed over for more "technical" jobs that give them the wide-ranging experience needed to run a company.
Priscilla Hill-Ardoin is the exception that proves the rule. Hill-Ardoin, now senior vice president at SBC Communications, said that as she was climbing the corporate ladder, her supervisor assigned her to a job overseeing outside telephone lines. She didn't think the job was suited to her strengths and resisted, but now says she's glad she got the experience because she was given the type of operating experience often required to rise within corporations.
Jamieson said she hopes the report will spur companies to take a good hard look at how to recruit and promote more qualified women and at whether "the corporate culture encourages the retention of women." The report recommends that companies provide mentoring and training opportunities and work with recruiting firms to identify top female candidates. All of the panelists said it is crucial that women are able to form relationships with people who will later be in a position to promote them.
"When women are at the top, we can and do change the culture," said Public Broadcasting System head Pat Mitchell, whose senior staff consists of eight women and two men. "As women have come into corporations at critical mass levels, things have changed."
Hill-Ardoin agreed, saying that at first her company marketed cell phones as something for executives. Women executives quickly explained that mobile communications was vital for working mothers. The marketing plan changed.
It is also important to put in place "family friendly" policies that encourage women to stay in their jobs after they've had children, the panelists said. Judith McHale, president and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications, Inc. said she has tried hard to make it possible for working mothers, and fathers, to remain involved in their childrens' lives.
"With all the technological resources we have now, people should be able to work from just about anywhere," McHale said. As a result of this commitment, Discovery has been recognized by Working Mothers Magazine as one of the nation's 100 best places to work.
Hindery argued, however, that training programs won't help if girl children aren't presented with role models and a sense of unlimited possibilities from the time they're very young. "The intervention has to occur at much earlier levels and ages," he said.
And, Hindery said, the only way to deal with middle-level managers who don't help achieve a corporate goal of diversity is to take them out of the equation. "You've got to fire people who do not advance women," he said.
Sarah Stewart Taylor is a free-lance writer based in Washington and covering both Washington and New England.
A special daily feature of Women's Enews during Women's History Month.
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