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What We Can Learn From the
Few Fortune 500 Females
by Mary Foley

I think women have come a long way in corporate America until I read something like this: "Few women hold top executive jobs, even when CEOs are female." That was a headline a few years ago in the USA Today, but it could have been a headline from last week.

The article includes the stat that only 6 women hold the CEO spot at the Fortune 500 companies. It also reveals that among the 24 best-paid execs working for those 6 female CEOs only 3 are women. Since almost always CEOs come from the pool of people just below them, it's unlikely we'll see many female Fortune 500 CEOs any time soon. Ugh!

Well, at least I know the facts, I thought to myself. I'd rather live in reality than a fairytale. Then I considered what it means for the bodacious woman trying to create a corporation career. Three realities jumped out at me.

The first reality is that as women we've still got a long way to go to get into the very top spots of companies, especially large ones. We've invaded the entry-level ranks, we've heavily populated middle management, and we've made in-roads to the executive positions. If the 21st century is indeed the women's century, somehow more of us must be players as CEOs and in the Board Rooms.

Fortunately, the article states that there are a good number of mid-level female 40-something executives who are still rising through the ranks and may be more on the radar screen in the next 5 to 10 years.

The second reality is that shooting for the top in corporate America is a choice and not one for every woman (or every man for that matter). The essence of being bodacious is knowing you have choices. Whatever career level you choose affects everything: your time, your relationships, your activities, where you live and more.

To attempt to get to the top, women need to be clear about those demands and be willing to meet them. For every woman willing to do just that I say we respect, salute and support them. It takes a lot of guts and the last thing they need is to be judged and criticized.

The third reality is that no matter your chosen path, key to your career success is how you can contribute to the bottom-line. USA Today states that many women receive promotions in areas such as human resources or corporate communications, rather than line positions directly responsible for profits and losses. Line job or not, I think what's often missing in a woman's strategy for career growth is a focus on business results.

During my years at AOL I was in charge of corporate training, which was part of HR. I believe my effectiveness in that position was largely due to the line management perspective I brought from my 7 years in the company's call center unit. Every department contributes to business results.

The closer you can tie your contribution to the bottom-line and demonstrate performance, the more you've set yourself up for personal success.

Reflecting on the realities of the current corporate climate for women turned out to be useful. Instead of being bummed that there aren't many female CEOs in today's top companies, I'm inspired by those women who are and encouraged that all women, myself included, can still be as bodacious as they want to be.

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