Women Executives in the Post Pandemic World

Over the last 20 years, women have made great strides in the corporate executive world. When Indra Nooyi became PepsiCo’s CEO in 1994, she never had a female colleague at her level. Dozens of women, like Nooyi, climbed to the top and started to change the rules that were made by men, for men.

Since many offices have moved online, it has been more challenging for women to push their way into the places they were blocked out from. In September 2021, Fortune released results to a survey that asked 115 members of their Most Powerful Women community about what shaped their careers and how the pandemic is disrupting it.

Here are some of the stats:

  • 55% of women C-suite executives did not think they could have advanced to their role if most of their work was remote.
  • 48% said that remote work will help women’s careers
  • 58% were between 30 and 39 when they got a job or promotion that was a turning point in their career
  • 90% said they never took a break longer than one year for caretaking responsibilities

The survey results were eye-opening. In 2009, Xerox appointed Ursula Burns as the CEO, Burns was also the first Black woman to ever run a Fortune 500 Company. Burns recalls the secret to her success was that she made herself known and spoke up. Now with the remote environment, women can struggle with being seen and can become forgotten. Burns states how being a woman or person of color can make it more difficult to be known.

Not only has the pandemic made employees less visible, but it has also put their ability to gain company insight at risk. CEO of 3D printing technology company Carbon, Ellen Kullman, says she’s concerned the remote environment makes it harder to assess a work situation. With this, the pandemic has completely rearranged work culture and put corporate America into chaos.

As said by Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab, “This is one of the largest reorganizations of work for professionals that’s ever happened.” According to Fortune’s survey, more respondents did say that working remotely can help their careers. This stat can be a sign of change on its way.

Throughout all this uncertainty, however, corporate boards have become less risky when searching for a CEO. The executive search firm, Heidrick & Struggles, published a study that found that during the start of the pandemic, companies favored candidates that had previous CEO experience. Since such few women already have this involvement, the number of selected female executives declined.

On a positive note, over 60% of the Fortune survey participants said their senior management had gotten more diverse in the past year. Change is ahead of us, and some headhunters believe that this bottled-up demand for change in corporate will be a blessing for women. The pandemic has shown us some qualities and characteristics are more necessary than others. These qualities are seen more in women, such as empathy and authenticity. As Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy says, “EQ—this emotional quotient—has been more important in the last 18 months than certainly any time I’ve ever seen in my career.”

In the past ten years, the number of female Fortune 500 CEOs has doubled. Women have made incredible progress in getting to the top of a place where they were originally shunned from. Even with all this progression, there are still more barriers to cross. Today's women will be carving their own paths and pioneer new ways of leading. 

Read the full story and see more stats from the Fortune survey here: https://fortune.com/longform/covid-women-in-leadership-corporate-america-pandemic-effects/

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