female leadership in corporate america

Corporate America Hits the Mother Lode

When Salary.com estimated the monetary value of a stay-at-home mom’s job, the figure was impressively high. Based on time spent performing ten typical job functions, American mothers should be welcoming $133,568 a year. Bearing several in-home titles including Family CEO, Housekeeper, Van Driver, Family Chef, and Residence Facilities Manager, today’s matriarch brings the drive of a top executive to an average of 94 working hours a week. Considering these numbers, it’s not surprising that the American workplace is welcoming more and more mothers to prime positions in their organizations.

In 1998, the number of Fortune 500 companies with female CEOs was a measly two. Sixteen years later, the number had climbed to 24, a record high for the prestigious list. Perhaps more significant, though, is the research result of a recent Fortune analysis. Fortune 1000 companies under female leadership record significantly better stock market returns than those headed by males. What’s more, 7 percent of the Fortune 1000s total revenue is driven by female-led companies (although only 5 percent of Fortune 1000 CEOs are women).

The natural question arises, then: why do companies run by women lead the pack in terms of results? Leadership consultants suspect it may stem from management style. Compared to their male counterparts, women more commonly lead a team by example, and mothers, who’ve endured tantrums, playground mishaps, and the Terrible Twos, are more adept at crisis management than the average male.

Mothers Of Invention
Today, some of the nation’s top CEO moms are introducing innovative new perks and flourishes to the workforce. Some of these, no doubt, could only have been created by a woman who’s experienced both the pride of motherhood and the crushing demands of a 60-hour work week.

When a member of Forbes’ “most powerful women on the planet” roster implements a new practice, corporate America is all ears. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, has adopted a novel approach to employee appreciation. Inspired by the blush of pride her own mother exhibited when Indra shattered the infamous glass ceiling, Nooyi recognized that, beyond simply praising her stellar leadership team, she could go straight to its creators. Rather than simply celebrating exemplary employees, Nooyi has taken to penning handwritten notes of praise to the mothers of those employees. A frivolous conceit? Not according to the dynamic and undeniably influential Nooyi. For parents, the success of an offspring not only confirms the hard work and drive of the child, but also showcases what a great job the parent did in raising that child. In her letters to her team’s parents, Nooyi thanks moms and dads for the “wonderful gift” of their child and is never short on accolades for their progeny’s impact on the company.

Nooyi, a mother of two daughters, assesses traditional corporate leadership as being overly concerned with the wrong things and failing to engage employees “with their hearts.” In sending personalized, intimate letters of gratitude to her team’s parents, she found she’d “opened up emotions” of a sort she’d never expected. The compelling result has been stronger relationships with her staff and renewed engagement throughout her team.  

For YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, motherhood introduced a whole new set of challenges to her everyday career demands. Determined to foster a healthy, happy homelife for family while bringing her A-game to the male-dominated tech industry, Wojcicki found herself scrambling with complications that men rarely face. Her game-changing efforts began prior to her YouTube tenure when, as a Google executive in 1999, she became the first employee in the company’s history to take maternity leave. The buzzing pressures facing female executives had, until that point, precluded the notion that motherhood required any real attention. In voicing her desire for some essential and hard-earned time with her newborn, Wojcicki blazed a radical new trail for working women. When Google, eight years later, extended maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks, the retention rate of expectant mothers at the company increased by 50 percent. Beyond the corporate savings this fostered in lowering turnover rates and reducing onboarding costs of new employees, the updated policy kept some of Google’s most valuable executives on the team and fully engaged.

Wojcicki wears her parent-empowerment badge with great pride and insists that motherhood has made her a far more effective leader. She has publicly stated that starting a family gave her “a broader sense of purpose, more compassion, and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently.”

Today, Google employees enjoy an impressively generous family benefits package, including unique programs for new parents. One-on-one mentoring with veteran Google parents has been extremely popular, as has child care assistance and a $500 new-parent bonus to cover some essential parenting purchases.

From the start of her crusade as a Google executive to her current CEO post at YouTube, Wojcicki has trumpeted her belief in a work-family balance. Rarely will you find a company leader encouraging employees to limit their overtime for the sake of family, but Wojcicki insists on it. She’s been an outspoken advocate in the press for extending family benefits in the workplace, espousing her conviction that this will improve corporate culture and, ultimately, corporate success.

The Birth of Better Practices
While trendsetters like Nooyi and Wojcicki have introduced innovative, family-friendly directives to their companies, there is still a wide stretch of room for improvement. Despite reports confirming that corporations run by women outperform those commandeered by men, the female presence in top management positions remains a tiny fraction of the population. More alarming, a study conducted by global management consultancy firm Strategy& reports that women CEOs are far more vulnerable to being fired than men. And regardless of the proven success of paid maternity leave and family-friendly benefits, only 5 percent of U.S. businesses today offer any type of maternity leave at all.

Inspired practices from pioneers like Nooyi and Wojcicki have planted the seeds for growth but leadership (male and female) across all industries will need to nurture these directives before a vibrant and flowering new corporate landscape emerges.

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