Women still underrepresented in top leadership roles

Only about 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women

Computer and cell phone file photo
Computer and cell phone file photo. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After securing $1 million in capital, CEO of Employee Wow, Jessica Ciabarra, is hoping to start expanding her business. Ciabarra co-founded Employee Wow, which provides businesses a way to receive anonymous feedback from customers.

Ciabarra started her company in Austin and hopes the feedback platform will let companies see in which areas they’re doing well and where they aren’t. Ciabarra says that should help employers better train their employees and also better retain qualified employees.

But when Ciabarra first started her business, she said she had trouble getting investors to come on board.

“I say being a woman, pitching investors was really difficult, also because I’m really young,” she said.

Her experience, however, isn’t unique.

Business professor at McCombs School of Business Dr. Kristie Loescher told KXAN she plays for her students a documentary that shows just how hard it is for women in the technology to get funding for their businesses.

Loescher said skill isn’t the issue. She said, “Women leaders are just as effective as men leaders.”

But she explained bias is. She gave an example of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra changing its procedures and doing a blind audition.

“The conductor had said, ‘Oh I audition women all the time, but the men are just better players.’ Once all players were behind a screen and he couldn’t see them, within 5 years, 50 percent of Cincinnati Orchestra were women,” Loescher said.

Loescher said bias is keeping women from advancing in their careers.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, only about one-third of all small businesses are owned by women. For bigger corporations, the Pew Research Center found 20 years ago, no Fortune 500 companies had women CEOs. Now, only about 6% have women leaders.

Loescher said more women mentoring other women can help improve those numbers.

Ciabarra said, “My advice would be to surround yourself with the right people.”

Austin-area Fortune 500 Companies

In Austin, Dell and Whole Foods made the Fortune 500 list last year.

Dell has 12 people on its leadership team. Just one is a woman.

Whole Foods has 11 women in leadership positions out of 31.

Dell sent us a statement saying, “We believe in creating a global business that harnesses the power of the best and brightest talent from all genders, backgrounds, religions, nationalities and race. With this we recognize the need to offer programs that further diversify the workforce, including gender diversity.”

Dell said it has internal programs to retain and promote women at Dell.

  • Leading Women at Dell is a program in collaboration with Simmons College School of Management, in which is designed to meet the specific needs of senior level, high potential women with c-Suite/executive aspirations already holding senior-level positions. Participants have the opportunity to engage in peer group coaching as well as individual coaching with professional executive coaches that help enhance their skills.
  • Managing Success Now program is focused on mid-level high potential women, which helps arm them with the skills they need to appreciate and understand differences, equip them with negotiating skills and the like to help them propel their careers forward in a positive fashion. Like Leading Women, participants have the opportunity to engage in coaching sessions to help enhance their skills and better navigate career options.
  • Women in Action, one of fourteen Employee Resource Groups (ERG) helps connect team members around the globe to provide opportunities for personal and professional development.

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