by Patricia Sellers
Delivering a talk on Women and Power in Princeton on Thursday night, I tossed out a term that the crowd really liked: Raise the roof!
As I told the 400 people gathered at the YWCA "Tribute to Women" dinner, the "glass ceiling" concept is out of date--and let's rethink how far corporate women have come.
Not that bias against female managers has gone away--far from it, as I've written right here.
But despite the standstill of female-led Fortune 500 companies--a dozen today--women have gained more power than you might think.
Looking at Fortune's Most Powerful Women in Business issue from 1998, the year we began the rankings, I discovered a telling fact: While Carly Fiorina, then at Lucent (ALU), was No. 1 on that first MPWomen list, the top-ranked CEO, at No. 6, was Mattel's Jill Barad. Mattel (MAT) had annual revenues of $4.8 billion back then.
Consider that vs. the CEOs on today's Fortune MPWomen list: No. 1, PepsiCo (PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi, oversees $57.8 billion in revenue. No. 2, Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft Foods (KFT), runs a $48 billion company. And ADM's (ADM) Pat Woertz, who is No. 3 on the 2010 list, sits atop more revenue than either of them.
My message to the Princeton audience was that women have gained a decade--and for the few Fortune 500's female CEOs, the entities they lead are much bigger than before.
Nonetheless, I bet we will never see parity at the top.
The reasons are many (and I'll leave that for a later Postcard), but basically, women and men view power differently. The "power" that women seek (and it's taken a decade for women at the top to embrace this word) is more horizontal--about extending influence in various directions. More often for guys, climbing the ladder is satisfying enough.
Granted, ladders aren't as straight or as sturdy as they used to be. Which is why, in this treacherous economy, stepping off the ladder may be the smartest strategy of all.
By that, I mean changing careers. Check out this story in the March issue of O: The Oprah Magazine about two enterprising women who were among Fortune's 2009 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs: Michelle Marciniak and Susan Walvius left their careers as basketball coaches to start a "high-performance" bedding company (yes, you read that right) called SHEEX. Reinvention at work.
More from Fortune.com:
by Patricia Sellers
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote one of the most-read Guest Posts ever on Postcards. "Don't Leave Before You Leave" ranks second in popularity to a post written by my 93-year-old Uncle Walter Stoiber, "The Great Depression, as I remember."
Yesterday at TEDWomen, a gathering in Washington, D.C., Sandberg expounded on the theme of her Guest Post: helping women understand what they need to do to reach the top. This MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 8, 2010 1:06 PM ET
I just got an email from Deep Blue. He's an anonymous source of my boss, Fortune Managing Editor Andy Serwer.
Deep Blue emails me too. A faithful reader of Postcards as well as Fortune, he prods and provokes and passes on scoop. (Thanks, DB!) Now and then, he even makes us rethink the big stuff--like life.
That's what Deep Blue's email did for me this morning. Maybe you've heard this story already. MOREPatricia Sellers - Apr 9, 2010 1:31 PM ET
"All of a sudden this ham... hit me full long in the face and 'bout knocked me cuckoo."
--Celebrity cook and Food Network star Paula Deen, who was hit in the face by a ham today while volunteering at an Atlanta food drive. Deen, who was helping to unload 25,000 pounds of meat donated to a local food bank, was the honored guest at a recent "Fortune Most Powerful Women Evening MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 24, 2009 6:07 PM ET
"If I lost control of the business, I'd lose myself--or at least the ability to be myself. Owning myself is a way to be myself."
--Oprah Winfrey, in "The Business of Being Oprah," a 2002 cover story that I wrote about the billionaire media titan. Back then, Oprah was figuring out who she wanted to be, beyond a daytime talk-show host. She had recently (and warily) formed a partnership with Hearst--from MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 20, 2009 6:30 PM ET
"Young is better than old, Pretty is better than ugly, Rich is better than poor, T.V. is better than music, Music is better than movies, Movies are better than sports, Anything is better than politics, And nothing is better than the celebrity dead."
--Stolley's Law of Covers, created by Dick Stolley, senior editorial advisor to Time Inc., and founding editor, People. A legend of the magazine world, he made history when he secured the rights the Zapruder footage MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 18, 2009 6:12 PM ET
"'Unfriend' has real lex-appeal."
-- Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for the Oxford University Press's U.S. dictionary program. Today The New Oxford American Dictionary revealed that 'unfriend' is the 2009 word of the year. If you've got a Facebook profile, you've likely unfriended some annoying person in your network. Someone may have even (gasp) unfriended you!
There were lots of tech-isms in the running this year--paywall, netbook, sexting. One tech trend actually spawned MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 17, 2009 5:32 PM ET
"As every Iditarod musher knows, if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes."
-- Sarah Palin, in Going Rogue. Yep, she's ambitious--and No. 1 on Amazon.com.Jessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 16, 2009 6:35 PM ET
"The hair is 75 percent of my performance."
-- Actor Robert Pattinson, who stars as vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen in the screen version of the literary sensation, Twilight. In a Q&A in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, Pattinson says that for New Moon, the franchise's second installment, he told the filmmakers, "Listen, I need to tone down the hair. Let's make it a little more real, a little bit more...Method."
Pattison's MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Nov 13, 2009 6:00 PM ET
"If previous crises provide any indication of what lies ahead, FY2011 may be even more challenging than 2010."
-- Meredith Whitney, or Meredith Whitney Advisory Group, in a report on mounting fiscal troubles for state governments. After riding the boom and bust in real estate, 48 states are underfunded for fiscal 2010, she notes. State and local government spending accounts for 12% of U.S. GDP. Whitney's conclusion: When state governments lower MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 11, 2009 6:22 PM ET
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