Women CEOs Slowly Gain on Corporate America

If women are better than men at, say, thinking of long-term sustainability, it won't become apparent until they reach "critical mass," says Beth Brooke, global vice chairman of Ernst & Young, who is on the Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women.

She says that without greater numbers, the women remain outliers and are fighting strong headwinds. Investors, for example, will be impatient with a woman who happens to think years ahead at the expense of quarterly earnings, Brooke says.

Separate studies in 2008 by Catalyst, an organization that supports expanded opportunities for women at work, and management consultant McKinsey & Co., found that companies with more female executives and directors perform better.

University of California-Irvine professor emeritus Judy Rosener says brain scans prove that men and women think differently. At age 79, Rosener says she's concluded that a company with a mix of male and female leaders, with their differing attitudes regarding risk, collaboration and ambiguity, will outperform a competitor that relies on the leadership of a single sex. It happens that companies are dominated by men, but they probably would not perform better if dominated by women. Women aren't better, Rosener says, but they bring to the table something that men don't have.

Women are paid worse at the top. A 2008 survey of CEO pay at 3,242 North American companies by the Corporate Library found that female CEOs earned more in base pay, but when cash bonuses, perks and stock compensation were included, women made a median $1.7 million, or 85% of what male CEOs made.

This year is not starting out much better. The January Harvard Business Review includes a 360-degree feedback study by Herminia Ibarra and Otilia Obodaru. It finds that female leaders are seen by all around them to be strong in such traits as tenacity and emotional intelligence, but trail men in one important aspect: Their superiors, peers and subordinates say that women leaders lack vision.

Contributing: Matt Krantz

YOUR THOUGHTS: What will be the sign that women have finally shattered the glass ceiling?

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