Life at Work

They Open More Doors for Women

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007

When PepsiCo announced Indra K. Nooyi would become chief executive in October, it made headline news.

It was a let's-face-it moment: The only reason it was so noted is because she would be just one of 11 Fortune 500 female chief executives.

Women hold just 16.4 percent of corporate officer positions, up 0.7 percentage points from 2002, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advocacy group that studies women at work.

"We've seen growth for the last 10 years, but we're also seeing a slowing down of the growth," said Ilene H. Lang, Catalyst president.

Why does diversity at the top matter? Sylvia Chrominska, executive vice president of human resources with Scotiabank, sums it up best:

"It makes good business sense. Clearly, many major purchasing decisions are made by women. I think in the broadest sense of the word, diversity of thought, diversity in terms of ethnicity and gender is basically good for business."

And so, though I generally avoid writing about awards because many can be meaningless, I took a look at the four companies recently honored by Catalyst.


In 2002, PepsiCo decided to study how women of color were advancing in the company. Turnover among women of color was higher than among other groups.

The company intensively interviewed women of color who had been in senior positions but left. After the research, PepsiCo thought the main problem was that the women didn't think they had the same relationships with managers as their co-workers did. "They weren't as satisfied as other groups," said Amy George, vice president of global diversity and inclusion.

Since then, PepsiCo has started a program in which women of color and their managers can develop a deeper understanding. A third-party facilitator meets with the woman and her manager separately to talk about their relationship, where they see things going, what their career goals are. Then the three create a written plan. They go through the process again in three to six months, this time with the boss's boss as well, and determine how they did with their plan.

The results thus far? In 2001, 72 of the company's 1,806 executives (senior managers and above) were women of color, and that number grew to 144 out of 2,165 at the end of 2006. In addition, turnover had dropped by double digits, and the retention gap is almost indiscernible.

Goldman Sachs

After a serious look at diversity, the company realized it had a problem. Even though it had a good number of female employees, the number of female partners was minuscule. So Goldman started an initiative in 2001 to make sure women had senior managers' attention.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company