Three Jeffreys for Every Woman

Women in Senior Leadership Roles
Samantha Feldman

A few years ago I stumbled across a Tumblr called Boys Clubs, which records website pages that feature 100% male representation – executive teams, conference speaker lists, boards of directors, and rankings/awards lists.  While humorous, the nearly 20 pages of screenshots is also jarring – and proves the cognitive bias that when we think of ‘leadership’ we think of a male

Along those lines, one of the data points released by many companies was the percentage of women in leadership positions.  However, companies defined ‘leadership’ differently, with some reporting leadership as widely as “all people managers” and some defining it more narrowly as “VPs and above.” As a result, the numbers reported swing from 48% to 12%.  Where this brings us to is the idea that the more senior you get in a firm, the lower the share of women.   

In order to make a fair comparison about the percentage of women in leadership roles, I instead looked at each of the company websites to see who they choose to publicly feature to consumers and potential candidates as their leadership. A total of 269 leaders were featured, 58 of whom were women (22%).  Below is a graph that shows the share of female leadership by company – hover over the bars for additional detail.   



When it comes to leadership in technology, there were only two companies that released their data publicly that currently have senior executives listed in a technical position – the CTO at GoDaddy and interestingly, multiple roles at Intel (SVP of Data Center Group, VP of Platform Engineering, VP of Tech and Manufacturing, and CIO of Information Technology).   Another interesting find is at Amazon, where the current odds of being a woman featured on website leadership are 1 in 8.  The odds of being named Jeffrey are 3 in 8.  In other words, it is three times more likely to have a senior leader named Jeffrey than to have a senior leader who is a woman.  This is not too unusual of a finding – the New York Times published an article about a year ago with the title “Fewer Women Run Big Companies Than Men Named John.”  

Another way of tracking female leadership is by looking at board membership.  Of the public companies on the graph above, we again see this approximate 33% ceiling when it comes to board membership (the notable exception is Yahoo! where 43% of board members are women).  The 3:1 name ratio repeats here as well - this time at Twitter - where there are three board members named Peter and only one female.  That said, it’s through board appointments that we see that female representation has taken on greater importance in the past few years – of the 31 female board members counted, 10 of them (32% of all female board members in this group) were appointed in 2014 or later.  This trend is reaching the start-up world as well – a couple of weeks ago it was reported that Kleiner Perkins held a meeting where they urged their portfolio companies to focus on setting up diverse boards.

While there is definitely no quick fix to this problem, companies can start adopting HR policies and corporate cultures that attract, retain, and provide growth opportunities for female leaders.  Small start-ups are in the best position to do this, as it’s much easier to make a change in both culture and numbers when you’re at a hundred employees than when you’re over a thousand.  

In the next article we’ll talk about one way to make a dent – with recruiting.