APRIL 11, 2011
A Blueprint for Change
At a Wall Street Journal conference, business and government leaders examined what's holding women
back in the workplace— and set out an action plan for creating new opportunities
When Sandra Day O'Connor graduated near the top of her class at Stanford University's law school in
1952, she received only one job offer: to be a legal secretary.
Opportunities for women have expanded dramatically since then. But there is growing evidence that the
progress of women in America's workplace has stalled—and is now actually falling backward.
The Wall Street Journal convened almost 200 top leaders in government, business and academia not
only to discuss the reasons for the slippage, but also to come up with an action plan for how companies,
government, and men and women themselves can address it.
Women are now graduating from college and graduate school in greater numbers than men and entering
the work force in equal numbers. But at each stage of advancement, men are at least twice as likely as
women to move forward. Only 11 chief executives of Fortune 500 companies are women, down from 15 in
2010, according to Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit women's research group.
"Middle-management women get promoted on performance. Many middle-management men get
promoted on potential. Performance vs. potential," said Vikram Malhotra, chairman of the Americas for
McKinsey & Co., which conducted research commissioned by the Journal. "Qualified women actually
enter the work force in sufficient numbers, but they begin to plateau or drop off…when they are eligible for
their very first management positions. And it only gets worse after that."
Among the top recommendations at the inaugural meeting of The Wall Street Journal Task Force for
Women in the Economy: a proposal to encourage companies to break women out of traditional support
positions like human resources and put them into jobs with bottom-line, profit-and-loss impact, considered
essential preparation for the CEO spot. Other recommendations include the creation of a CEO
Commission to make the business case for advancing talented women.
We need to focus on women in their 30s, get them to "hang on by their fingernails" if they are tempted to
step back, said Sallie L. Krawcheck, president of global wealth and investment management at Bank of
America Corp. "But that's not going to be fast. It will take a long time."
The disparity is increasingly becoming a competitive issue for the U.S. and its growth potential, according
to economists, because many developing countries such as China and India are making rapid strides in
how effectively they utilize women, which is helping fuel their growth rates.
Justice O'Connor, who served a quarter-century in the Supreme Court, received a standing ovation when