August 30, 2010
Maggie Sachs on Douglas Branson's The Last Male Bastion: Gender and the CEO Suite in America's Public Companies
Posted by Christine Hurt

Friend and Glom reader Maggie Sachs sends along her quick take on this intriguing new book by a corporate law colleague, which is inspiring me to read more:

I have just finished reading a recent book by Douglas Branson that is likely to be of interest to many readers of this blog. Entitled The Last Male Bastion: Gender and the CEO Suite in America’s Public Companies, the book offers fascinating insights into the challenges that women face in becoming (and surviving as) CEOs. The purpose of the book is to shed light on a perplexing and under-publicized phenomenon: the astonishing fact that as of 2010, a mere three percent of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs.

In the first part of the book, Branson, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, profiles twenty-one women CEOs. These women run the gamut in terms of personality, family background, and financial literacy. A few have been great successes as CEOs, while others have been abject failures. Paradoxically, sometimes the very traits that open the door of the CEO suite prove counterproductive once a woman is inside the door.

In the second and third parts of the book, Branson dissects the data he has assembled. There is a wealth of intriguing analysis here, which I will illustrate by sharing a few of my personal favorites. First, there is a tendency for women to be hired by companies that spot trouble on the horizon. With the deck stacked against women CEOs in this fashion, how surprised should we be if they don’t succeed? Moreover, women CEOs who fail at their jobs seem to fall off the professional checkerboard, whereas their male counterparts often land on their feet in new and visible positions. In addition, women are more likely to be hired when the length of time allotted for interviews is longer, allowing greater opportunity either for initially hesitant interviewees to convey their accomplishments or for initially prejudiced interviewers to overcome their biases (or both).

In short, Branson’s book is as sobering as it is provocative. It will resonate with everyone who cares about the problems that confront women professionals in general, as well as those of us with an interest in women CEOs in particular.

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