While Hillary Clinton is well-positioned to shatter the presidential glass ceiling in 2016, Minnesota women are having a tough time gaining entrance to corporate boardrooms and executive suites.
Among Minnesota’s top 100 publicly held companies, only 17.4 percent of the senior executives are women.
That was one of the key findings in a report released Thursday about the 2012 Minnesota Census of Women in Corporate Leadership.
Shelly Ibach, CEO of Select Comfort, is pictured on the cover of the annual report that is produced by St. Catherine University in St. Paul.
But Ibach and Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith are rarities. Among the women who hold executive officer rank in the business survey, it’s far more common to find women holding the title of senior vice president of human resources.
While women historically have made inroads in the workplace through HR positions, the new survey showed women making some progress in a less traditional area. Sixteen of the top 100 companies had women in the post of chief financial officer. Hormel Foods, Toro and Valspar are among the well-known companies with women in the CFO job.
Pathway to CEO
The chief financial officer position provides women with an excellent vantage point to understand all aspects of a business. Consequently, it can serve as a pathway to the top job in a major corporation.
At privately-held Carlson, Trudy Rautio was CFO of the international travel and hospitality company when the board selected her last August to succeed Hubert Joly as chief executive. Marilyn Carlson Nelson was board chair when Rautio was chosen and Carlson Nelson herself had served for several years as CEO of the global company that was founded
by her father.
However, the Minnesota women’s census, co-sponsored by the Minnesota Women’s Economic Roundtable, also showed that women are a long way from gender equity in corporate boardrooms.
Women hold just 14.5 percent of the corporate board seats that govern Minnesota’s 100 largest public companies.
Mary Brainerd, the high-profile CEO of HealthPartners, is one of two women serving on the SurModics board. Four women serve on the Hormel Foods board, including Susan Marvin, president of Marvin Windows and Doors.
The report said that 14.5 percent is the “highest percentage of seats held by women since the study began in 2008, but an increase of only 0.3 percentage points over 2011.”
Glacial progress on boards
At that rate, one could argue that Minnesota women are making glacial progress in gaining board seats.
Yet, Minnesota is doing better than many other areas of the United States. The Minnesota study was done in conjunction with research conducted in 14 other regions. Once all of the statistics were gathered, they showed that Minnesota was first in the percentage of women executives and fifth in the percentage of women board members.
But St. Catherine’s professors Joann Bangs and Rebecca Hawthorne aren’t cheering those rankings.
“The holding pattern of predominantly white, male leadership in most Minnesota public companies places our state’s economic growth at risk,” Bangs and Hawthorne wrote in the Minnesota corporate census report. “Diversifying the face of corporate leadership in Minnesota is a competitive imperative.”
They called on CEOs, board chairs, nominating chairs and executive recruiters to place a greater value on increasing the number of qualified women in executive and board positions.
They also implored shareholders to push for more women in corporate leadership positions. In their pitch to shareholders, they wrote: “Encourage CEOs and board members to develop a goal for board and executive suite diversity, including moving toward the optimum number of three or more women on the board and in executive leadership
‘Lean in’ women’s movement
The annual survey on women in corporate leadership was released shortly after Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg ignited a national debate over her new book “Lean In.”
Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, notes that women are earning about 57 percent of undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of master’s degrees in the United States. Yet she said that women are in a distinct minority when it comes to filling top leadership posts.
“Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional — or worse, sometimes even a negative — for women,” Sandberg wrote in her book. “Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty.”
Sandberg is in her 40s, married and the parent of young children, but her wealth separates her from the daily life experiences of many working women in America.
Nonetheless, she’s taken up the cause of advancing the status of women in the workplace, including urging women to reach for the highest rungs on the ladders in their organizations. “If more women lean in, we can change the power structure of our world and expand opportunities for all. More female leadership will lead to fairer treatment for all women,” she said.
“I have written this book to encourage women to dream big, forge a path through the obstacles, and achieve their full potential,” she wrote in her book’s conclusion. “I am hoping that each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with gusto. And I am hoping that each man will do his part to support women in the workplace and in the home, also with gusto. As we start using the talents of the entire population, our institutions will be more productive, our homes will be happier, and the children growing up in those homes will no longer be held back by narrow stereotypes.”
Fedor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is on Twitter @LizFedor