Job Hunting

Old Boys Network: On the Fritz

Survey shows women making gains in corporate world; Avon rated the best employer for female executives.
Lisa YoonFebruary 6, 2003

It’s getting easier for women to find companies where they can succeed. Or at least, that’s the takeaway from this year’s survey by the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE).

In the NAFE’s list of “Top 30 Companies for Executive Women,” Avon Products once again took the top spot. That’s the fifth straight year the cosmetics seller has topped the list, which rates companies on numbers of women board members, corporate officers, and top earners. Avon, which was founded by women and has emphasized employing women throughout its history, is a well-known advocate of women’s issues, like breast cancer research.

Another big winner from this year’s survey was women’s apparel maker Liz Claiborne, which came in third place on the list.

But don’t assume all the companies that made the list offer women’s products. In fact, the diversity of industries was notable this year, with almost two-thirds of the list including financial services companies and retailers. “This year, we find a great diversity in the types of companies offering women the best shot,” said NAFE president Betty Spence.

The top ten also include Scholastic, Wellpoint, Fannie Mae, Golden West, Prudential, New York Times, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM.

The top companies actively try to hire women in C-level positions, according to NAFE. But they also have the best practices to get them there by offering development opportunities and a company culture where women can advance “and have a life,” said Spence. For instance, Prudential gives a work/life award to employees who produce “while being personally accomplished.” And Hewlett-Packard created a position solely dedicated to bringing new women into its workforce.

All good stuff. But here’s the bad news: Despite strides in number of job opportunities, equal pay for men and women remains more concept than reality. Proxy statements show that only 16 of the top 30 companies have at least one woman among the highest paid officers. Scholastic is the sole company where women beat out men in pay.

“Some women are getting paid equitably at America’s top companies for women, but we’re not there yet,” said Spence. “Companies that want to be magnets for women need to re-assess their pay policies.”

Besides women C-level executives, companies in the list must also have at least two women directors on the board, programs that groom women for upper management, maternity or paternity leave, and flextime.

This year, NAFE also added a new metric: the number of women in line positions, or operating jobs with profit and loss (P&L) responsibility. Among the top ten, Liz Claiborne and Scholastic are the only companies with more women than men in senior operations positions. Other standout companies in this category: IBM, where all top women also hold operating jobs; the New York Times, where women are responsible for bringing in 98 percent of revenue; and Wellpoint, with its program for getting women into P&L jobs in 12-18 months.

Finally, according to NAFE, two trends emerged in management practices this year: More companies survey employees and actually implement suggestions; and more companies are linking managers’ salary and bonus to their promotion of women workers.