Open to Women?

Are we living in a meritocracy or a machotocracy?

It was another promise of the new economy: We'd finally move from the old-time rules of the old boys' network to a workplace based on merit, performance, and skill -- a workplace that would be more open to women. Forget about breaking the glass ceiling, the logic went, the new economy would break out of the whole box. That was the promise. Just how well has it been kept? To find out, Fast Company surveyed six successful women, high achievers in industries as diverse as autos, packaged goods, finance, and medicine. The question: Are we living in a meritocracy or a machotocracy?

Pamela Thomas-Graham

President and COO, CNBC
New York, New York
Fort Lee, New Jersey

I'm fairly optimistic about where women are in business today. We're not in an environment anymore where a role model is just one person -- or one kind of person. And although we still don't have enough diversity, at least lots of different women, who showcase lots of different management styles, are successful these days.

Young women today should feel inspired by the fact that in a relatively short period of time, things have changed. Things are a lot easier for us than they were even just 10 years ago. And they will continue to change, as long as we keep pushing.

In the first act of the new economy, a lot of transitions took place. It's actually the female leaders in the broadly defined technology space who have demonstrated most clearly the advances in what women can do. The old media, however, is still a pretty tough go: There just aren't many senior women in broadcasting, cable, or film.

I'm concerned that as we hunker down in this current downturn, people will once again say, "I don't know if I want to take a risk on a woman in this role -- on someone who doesn't look like I do."

Pamela Thomas-Graham (ptg@stantoncrenshaw.com) became McKinsey & Co.'s first black female partner in 1995. She left consulting four years later to oversee the online activities of CNBC.com as president and CEO. She is now president and COO of the entire CNBC television network. Thomas-Graham sits on the boards of the New York City Opera, the American Red Cross of Greater New York, the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, and the Harvard Alumni Association. She is also the author of the Ivy League Mystery series, published by Simon & Schuster.

Susan Arnold

President, Global Personal Beauty Care
Procter & Gamble Co.
Cincinnati, Ohio

I don't consider myself a trailblazer. I don't have horror stories to tell you. I've been treated fairly throughout my career, and I've shattered some glass ceilings along the way. I was able to attain my current position for two reasons. First, I delivered excellent results. As a vice president, I oversaw multiple businesses in beauty care and led our largest profit center in North America to the best results we'd had in a decade. Second, I had great advocacy at the top: Our CEO was my first boss. And he has always been a firm believer in diversity and fairness.

I've had multiple mentors in my career, and they have been central to my success. Women often tell one another that they have to "get a mentor," and it becomes a forced thing. I've always gotten to know my mentors in business situations, and my relationships with them have been based on working together.

I mentor as many people as I can now -- and I specifically try to be available to women. We find each other through natural working interactions. My best advice is to give it time. The best, most effective mentor relationships are ones that develop naturally.

Susan Arnold's career at Procter & Gamble spans 20 years. Joining in 1980 as a brand assistant for the Dawn/Ivory Snow group, she rose through the ranks as a brand manager, an advertising manager, and a general manager in a number of different product areas. In 1996, Arnold was named vice president and general manager of deodorants/Old Spice and skin care, and in 1997, she became vice president of North America fabric care. She is now president of P&G's global personal beauty care division.

Jacki Hoffman-Zehner

Managing director, executive office
Goldman Sachs
New York, New York

In the early years, what I found challenging was that there weren't a lot of senior-women role models in the business to define success. I almost quit my job many times. There were days when I was unable to sleep or eat, and I'd cry in the ladies' room. It's important for me to tell women that even though I cried, I made it. For many years, I felt that crying was a weakness. It isn't. It releases stress, it cleanses, and it shows that you take things seriously. Women need examples of other women who succeed despite being a little "different." Different works, and strong organizations embrace differences.

Today, we have more women role models, though clearly still not enough. I worry that too many women remain trapped in the past. They are still willing to accept not being treated fairly at home or at work. Some still think, Hey, if my butt's not getting pinched, I should be happy. I say, Know your power. And make sure that you have a good set of power tools: talent, enthusiasm, confidence, and your own bank account. Then, when you get promoted up the ladder, keep pushing.

Jacki Hoffman-Zehner (jacki.hoffman @gs.com) was the first female trader to make partner in the fixed income, currency, and commodity division at Goldman Sachs. Prior to joining the company, she was among the first to graduate from the prestigious Portfolio Management Foundation program at the University of British Columbia. The 1982 and 1983 Canadian Women's Junior Body Building champion, Hoffman-Zehner sits on the board of Future Possibilities, a nonprofit organization that provides life-skills coaching to inner-city kids.

Phyllis Magrab

Professor of pediatrics
Director, Child Development Center
Georgetown University School of Medicine
Washington, DC

I didn't enter Georgetown thinking that I would be anything but successful. I wasn't aiming for tenure. I was focused on the work and the mission: finding imaginative ways to support chronically ill children and their families. I focused on linking with the physicians who were here to achieve that goal. My training and experience have taught me that if you enter a group with the belief that you have something positive to contribute, then you have a better chance of succeeding.

When I think about the past five years in this country, I find it rather remarkable that the new economy could have been so robust, yet so many women have been left behind. So although my colleagues accept me as an equal, leveling the playing field for mothers and their children in our society hasn't happened. We have not yet solved the problem of the poor -- poor women or poor children. A large percentage of women still don't get prenatal care. Insufficient health insurance disproportionately affects women. The new economy has not really lifted the bottom. In fact, the gap is greater than ever. I don't think it's a political issue. It's an issue of will and personal commitment on the part of both women and men.

Phyllis Magrab (magrabp@gunetgeorgetown.edu) has been teaching for more than 30 years at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. She was the first woman to be granted a full tenured professorship in a clinical department at the medical school. She consults for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Center for Educational Research and Innovation and remains active in Best Friends, a community-outreach program that she cofounded for teenage girls in Washington, DC.

Cherri M. Musser

Chief information officer, e-GM
Process information officer, supply chain
General Motors Corp.
Detroit, Michigan

I didn't even think about gender when I took my job at GM. Throughout my career, I've looked at the job and its challenges. And by doing that, I've been successful. I've never felt like I've been held back because I'm a woman. My focus is on results and on building relationships. In my field, you have to have technical skill. General problem-solving skills are important. You also have to be able to communicate in business terms. But these are larger skills that aren't gender driven. The opportunities are there -- you just have to find them.

The new economy is just one more step in time. I haven't seen more doors opening for women. I just think that people have gotten more sensitive to needing a work-life balance. For managers, the new economy raised the level of sensitivity to the importance of time off and of not keeping employees on the road all the time.

My belief is that you don't focus on being female -- you focus on getting the job done. If you draw too much attention to your gender, you're not a member of the team working to make sure that the business runs better. If your business is focused on bottom-line results, you'll do well if you focus on the same thing. Then just enjoy what you're doing. Have fun, and good things will happen.

Cherri M. Musser has been overseeing information-technology applications for all supply-chain and e-GM applications worldwide since 1996. Prior to joining General Motors, she spent 20 years in the software division at Texas Instruments, where she served as the company's vice president of worldwide research and development and director of corporate business systems.

Judy Estrin

Cofounder, president, and CEO
Packet Design Inc.
Mountain View, California

Whenever you have high growth and more opportunities open up, it's likely going to mean more opportunities for women. In the new economy, two things happened. First, we were going so fast that companies needed to reach out to all resources available. Second, part of the growth came not just from technology businesses but also from e-commerce businesses, so it was easier to get into the field without having a technological background. A lot of women went up the marketing path, rather than the technology path.

These things did provide women with more opportunities, but I don't think they changed the game dramatically. Looking back over the past few years, I see that women made as many mistakes as men did.

For entrepreneurs, gaining credibility somewhere before striking out on your own is vital, whether you're male or female. Beyond that, I would tell young women to be themselves. Women who stress out about being female don't do themselves or anyone else any good. Lots of women carry a chip on their shoulder, and everyone can see it. And that affects both male and female colleagues.

Judy Estrin (jestrin@packetdesign.com) cofounded three technology companies before cofounding Packet Design Inc. in May 2000. The first, Bridge Communications, went public in 1985. When it merged with 3Com Corp. in 1987, Estrin continued to run the Bridge Communications division. Her second company, Network Computing Devices, went public in 1992. A year later, she became CEO. She also served as CEO of Precept Software from the company's founding in 1995 until it was acquired by Cisco Systems in 1998, at which time she became Cisco's chief technology officer. She is on the board of several prominent companies, including FedEx Corp.

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