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by Vault Careers | October 20, 2010


"At present, there are 12 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies." So begins a sentence in a recent Wall Street Journal article on the challenges facing female executives. But wait: this isn't another lament about the fact that just 2.4 percent of major companies are led by representatives of a group that makes up more than 50 percent of the population. Nope: the rest of the sentence goes on to point out that 11 out of those 12 are mothers.

The fact that motherhood is no longer the barrier to ascending to the top of companies that it once was is something to be celebrated—especially in the midst of National Business Women's Week. But the article makes clear that there's still a long way to go: the discrepancy in numbers isn't limited to quotas--"manager moms" still take home just 79 cents for every dollar made by "manager dads."

Unfortunately, the piece doesn't provide stats on how many of the males running the other 488 Fortune 500 companies are parents; that would have made an interesting comparison point—particularly for figuring out the overall likelihood of ascending to such a position while remaining childless. Indeed, the 11 out of 12 stat begs one significant question: why are women with children more likely to run Fortune 500 companies than those without?

Harvard economics professor Claudia Goldin suggests one possible—albeit not entirely satisfactory—answer in the piece: "that the highest achievers can handle big challenges."

Does that suggest that the key to getting ahead as a female executive is now to have children? If so, it's hardly a step forward in terms of achieving equality.

--Phil Stott,


Filed Under: Workplace Issues