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By: Laura Colby
The heads of Bank of America Corp., American Electric Power Co., Coca-Cola Co. and 24 more large global companies have pledged to boost the number of women in their top ranks to parity with men by 2030.
Urged by female leaders including Ellen Kullman, former chairman and chief executive officer of Dupont Inc, and Jewelle Bickford, partner at Evercore Wealth Management, the CEOs joined a program called Paradigm for Parity that prescribes five steps for advancing women.
It will be a tough climb. Women currently compose 14 percent of the top five executive positions at each of the S&P 500 companies, and just 20 of the CEO jobs, or 4 percent. They’re advancing so slowly that parity could take more than a century at current rates, according to a 2015 study by McKinsey & Co and LeanIn.org. McKinsey Global Managing Partner Dominic Barton signed the Paradigm for Parity pledge.
“What’s frustrating is that, to date, there has been so little progress,” Bickford said in a conference call announcing the initiative. Many organizations support women in business, but there’s a disconnect between what companies say and actually placing women in top positions, she said. “We concluded nothing would change unless there was an actionable road map.”
The coalition laid out steps for senior managers: address unconscious bias; base advancement on performance rather than time in the office; promote women into operating roles with responsibility for profit and loss; set targets and communicate them; and actively sponsor promising female leaders. The group suggests aiming for 30 percent women in management within the next five years.
No Pay Goal
The five steps don’t mention one pressing issue — the gender pay gap. Women in the U.S. earn only 79 cents for each dollar earned by men. The exclusion was intentional, Bickford said in a separate phone interview. “We felt that others were dealing with that,” she said. “If you get even close to parity, you will see these other problems go away. It’s powerful.”
Kullman, who stepped down last year as the first woman to lead the 214-year-old chemical company, said unconscious bias training, in particular, helped women move up the ladder at Dupont. “I know first-hand the challenges women face,” she said. “Many women face barriers and biases that prevent them from succeeding.”
“Companies are in very different places,” she said. “The goals had to be believable.”
According to company websites, Bank of America Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan leads a management committee of five women and 10 men. Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent’s senior leadership includes three women on a team of 14; AEP, led by Nicholas Akins, also has three women among 14 people listed as its leadership.
Anne Drake, chairman and CEO of supply chain management firm DSC Logistics, said on the call that measuring and publishing metrics will be essential to meeting the goals. “The numbers tell the story,” she said, adding that the company will publish data twice a year.
Such figures are also key at Accenture, said Pierre Nanterme, chairman and CEO. His company has already committed to making sure that at least 40 percent of hires are women. Women make up 24 percent of of Accenture’s global management committee and 30 percent of its newly promoted managing directors. “The more you bring women around you, the more you bring value to the company,” he said.
Kullman, Bickford and two others — Sandra Beach Lin, the former CEO of Calisolar Inc. and an AEP board member, and Veronica Hagen, former CEO of Polymer Group Inc. — invited “all the women in senior leadership that we knew” to an meeting held over two and half days in June 2015 to brainstorm, Bickford said.
At the meeting, 47 women hammered out how they might break down barriers, she said.
“We thought, ‘we can solve this,’” Bickford said. “And we believe we have.”