by Emma Coleman Jordan
The metaphor of the "glass ceiling" expresses the negative experiences of women seeking the highest leadership positions in the largest corporations in American business today. In my view, a fierce dispute, now in the headlines, within the Hewlett Packard corporation board of directors contains many elements suggestive of corporate gender warfare in Silicon Valley and beyond.
Business as usual or Corporate Gender Warfare?
Today, the Hewlett Packard Corporation finds itself embroiled in a bitter dispute surrounding the firing of one board member and the resignation of another. In the last few days, a ferocious board fight at HP has spilled into the reports of several national news organizations. The NYT has this report and this about the escalating board intrigue at HP. Board chair, Patrica Dunn has been accused of making use of a variety of private investigative techniques to trace the source of leaks that led to the resignation of former Hewlett Packard CEO,Carly Fiorina in early 2005.
The NYT reports that the phone records of both board members and reporters were obtained by "pretext". Pretexting is an investigative technique in which the investigator pretends to be the subject of the investigation in order to obtain the release of private information that would only be available to the subject.
The two board members who either resigned or were fired are both males. The primary executives involved in this corporate drama are both women: Carly Fiorina former CEO and Patricia Dunn, Chair of the Board. The California Attorney General has announced an investigation into the charges that Dunn improperly used private investigators to track down leaks from the HP Board. The AG declared that "a crime" has been committed. CNN reported that Hewlett Packard stock slid on the news of the Attorney General 's investigation. Newsweek has this report on the underlying dispute within the company.
The HP dispute should be viewed in light of the following research findings about the progress of women, including women of color, in roles of corporate leadership.
In July, Catalyst, a non profit research and advocacy organization devoted to expanding the opportunity for women to achieve positions of corporate leadership issued a report which tracked women executives in the Fortune 500, and found that most large U.S. companies have made minimal progress in advancing women—and especially women of color—to leadership and top-paying positions over the past decade. Catalyst found that "If this rate of progress continues, it could take 40 years for women to achieve parity with men in corporate officer positions."
The 2005 Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners of the Fortune 500 found that in the last three years, average growth in the percentage of corporate officer positions held by women fell dramatically to 0.23 percentage points per year, the lowest yearly gain in the past ten years. Between 2002 and 2005, the total number of women corporate officers increased by a mere 0.7 percentage points to 16.4 percent. the average Fortune 500 company had 21.8 corporate officers in 2005; on average, women held only 3.6 of these positions. Women occupied only 9.4 percent of clout titles (those higher than vice president), up from 7.9 percent in 2002.
More than one-half of the Fortune 500 had fewer than three women corporate officers. Only eight companies in the Fortune 500 were led by a woman CEO in 2005, and none of those companies were among the Fortune 100. Women held only 6.4 percent of top earner positions, up just 1.2 percentage points from 2002. And fully 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies reported no women as top earners.
Hewlett Packard, with more than 86 billion in revenues, ranks 11th on the list of Fortune 500 companies. Before her highly contentious resignation in 2005, Carly Fiorina was the only woman CEO in the top 20 of the Fortune 500.
The HP drama unfolding in criminal investigations, search warrants, director firings and resignations offers a fertile field for thinking about the state of gender relations in modern corporate governance. Do gender conflicts fuel the intensity of the fighting about corporate governance in the highest reaches of American corporate leadership ?
Is the Hewlett Packard controversy an idiosyncratic corporate power struggle, unique to that company? Or, does the HP board conflict reflect pervasive barriers that women face at the highest levels of corporate decisionmaking? Is it too simple to assume that both women in this dispute were aligned with each other? Would your analysis change if the two women at the heart of the dispute were in fact corporate antagonists? Does the escalation of conflict within the HP board have anything to do with the power struggles of women seeking to play "hardball" with the boys? Is this corporate "Thatcherism", in which women executives have to invade the corporate equivalent of the Falklands to show their skill at bare-knuckled corporate infighting? Was the male accused of leaking playing a male "gender card" by taking corporate confidences public to bring down a woman executive with whom he was engaged in a corporate power struggle that would have ended quietly, but no less bitterly, had she been a man?
Emailed "Lesson Plans" as a Marketing Technique for Business Periodicals
Next, I want to use this occasion to have a relentlessly Socratic conversation about potential ethical conflicts that can arise from the use of emailed "lesson plans" to professors who teach business courses. Serendipity delivered an emailed "lesson plan" on women in corporate leadership to my inbox just as the HP scandal hit the headlines. So, I can discuss both issues in a single post
As a faculty member who teaches in the business curriculum (Commercial law: Payments and Secured Transactions; Regulation of Financial Institutions), I frequently receive promotional "lesson plans" from The Wall Street Journal Finance Weekly, and Barron's Weekly.
In this post, I pass along the following lesson plan and summary of a Barron's Weekly online article "Women Leaders Boast [sic] Profit" for your reflection in light of the prominence of women corporate leaders in the HP board fight.
I want to raise a question about the nature of faculty relationships with business publications. The Barron's weekly email "lesson plan" that I received turned out to be a teaser for a paid subscription to the magazine's online edition. The "lesson plans" that I receive from both The WSJ and Barrons are prepared for what appears to be high school or college level courses by college faculty members, who write the emailed "lesson plans" focused on a single article in the magazine, to illustrate how the publications could be used to teach various hot topic business issues.
My questions for you are: do you think the dissemination of ready made "lesson plans", built around a single article are an effective marketing strategy to get college faculty to integrate either of these periodicals into their teaching? What is the obligation of the faculty member using the material offered? Would it be a violation of academic integrity to fail to disclose to students that the assigned material requires access to a copy of the designated periodical from the library or through a paid student subscription that then becomes the basis for the faculty member to receive a free or reduced rate subscription to the same periodical, if students subscribe as a part of the course. The Wall Street Journal emails that I receive contain this statement:
"Did you know that we've made it more affordable for your students to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal? For a limited time, students save 80% off regular print and online rates. Plus, you will receive a complimentary one-year subscription when 10 or more students sign up."
In light of the HP controversy, I will use the Barron's lesson plan, with full disclosure of its source, in this blog entry. Here are the questions, let me know what your answers would be if you were discussing the HP controversy with me in a virtual seminar on the challenges to women in corporate leadership.
Source: email from firstname.lastname@example.org
"Women Leaders Boast Profit"
"SUMMARY: This article is a positive appraisal of the role of women in corporate leadership roles. It cites several studies which it states correlates female leadership with corporate success. The article identifies and discusses some female-friendly companies as it argues for an increased role for women in leadership spots. The co-authors (two females) believe that organizations that do not use women as their leaders are bound to lose their competitive edge.
QUESTIONS: 1.) What is a competitive edge? How do you gain a competitive edge? How do you lose it?
2.) What is diversity? Should a company incorporate diversity into its organization? Why? Why not? How does one judge if a company is adequately diverse?
3.) What is the "glass ceiling"? Are women still disproportionately absent from top corporate-leadership positions? If so, what are some of the primary reasons?
4.) Are there any examples of foiled female corporate leaders? Are there any examples of successful female corporate leaders? How is failure and success assessed? By whom?
5.) Do male executives lead and manage differently than female executives? How so?
6.) Is there a correlation between boosting the number of female executives and an increased bottom line? If so, what are some reasons for this?
7.) What is Catalyst? What does Catalyst believe about the number and role of women in leadership positions?
SMALL GROUP ASSIGNMENT: How many Fortune 500 companies are headed by women? Who are they and what are the companies? What do you think should be the number of Fortune 500 companies headed by women? What is your rationale? What recommendations do you have for increasing the number of women in leadership positions? Besides gender diversity, what other areas of diversity are there? Who establishes what areas need to be addressed? Should there be a quota system for addressing diversity? Why? Why not?
Reviewed By: Dennis Palkon, Ph.D., MPH, MSW, Florida Atlantic University"
Source: email from email@example.com
The floor is now open for discussion.