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As I see it, women lean in, lean out, and lean sideways to stay in jobs and succeed. Why are so few of us making it to the top?

The recent news of Indra Nooyi stepping down from her role as CEO of PepsiCo was disappointing to me. Women already hold so few CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies (in 2018 the number stood at just 241), it makes me wonder if “leaning in” is enough. As I see it, women lean in, lean out, and lean sideways to stay in jobs and succeed. Why are so few of us making it to the top?

Nooyi herself pondered the question. She told Fortune2, “I see the struggles women go through, and you can’t expect every woman to be a superwoman,” she said. “It just doesn’t work because there’s one constraint we all have, and that’s that there are only 24 hours in a day.”

The “superwoman” paradigm, in which women successfully juggle family responsibilities and a demanding role at work, has been the stuff of entertainment, books, studies, social media, and talk show debates. Yet no one has a definitive answer on how to do it. The consensus right now seems to veer towards “there is no one way to do it” which I think is honest.

But consideration of the factors that may be impeding women’s advancement can be helpful. Structural barriers in the workplace (like bias against women in power or perceptions that one can’t be a mother and a good leader) abound. The New York Times (NYT)3 recently discussed the phenomenon of the “glass cliff” in which women “start out equal to men in terms of jobs and pay,” but then at each successive level of an organization’s hierarchy fall off. NYT used data from a study by Lean In and McKinsey4 to support their point:

“Only 22 percent of senior vice presidents are women. And of those, just 21 percent have roles related to generating revenue, which generally lead to C-level jobs. The drop-off starts with the first promotion to management: Women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted to manager than their male peers.”

Because of statistics like these, thought leaders like The Center for Association Leadership advise organizations to examine their practices in diversity and inclusion. Associations Now5 recently offered “3 Lessons: Diversity Diligence” which advises “diversity is not a one-and-done initiative. Rather, a review of hiring and promotion procedures and engagement of top leadership conveys the importance of diversity and inclusion (D+I).”

Organizations that do take diversity and inclusion seriously stand much to gain. Companies with women in leadership roles have been found to outperform their peers, according to multiple research studies including a 2017 University of California, Davis6 study which looked at the performance of 400 of the largest public companies headquartered in California. Companies with female representation in the C-suite did better than the ones with majority male boards and executives. A larger study by the Peterson Institute and EY7 found “a company with 30% female leadership could expect to add up to six percentage points to its net margin when compared with a similar business with no female leaders.”

At IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) advancing women in the accounting and finance profession is a stated goal of IMA’s Chair of Global Board of Directors, Ginger White, IMA’s fifth female chair. She is highly-involved in IMA’s Women’s Accounting Leadership Series, events that provide networking opportunities to women who want to further develop leadership skills and strategies for advancement in the accounting profession. IMA has also appointed a Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Linda Devonish-Mills to spearhead diversity initiatives.

IMA’s Diversity and Inclusion Statement underscores the importance of diversity to the success of the organization:

“The global governance of IMA acknowledges and embraces the diversity of our membership and considers an inclusive atmosphere essential. Through the backgrounds and experiences of our global membership base, we gain perspective and insights that impact the strategic and operational direction of our organization. Our global diversity also provides new ideas and alternative perspectives that expand IMA's contribution to the profession.

IMA enjoys a very diverse membership. Diversity encompasses embracing the various backgrounds and celebrating the uniqueness of each culture within our membership. IMA appreciates that uniqueness and leverages it as an asset wherever possible.”

Brad Monterio, Chair of IMA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, recently wrote about the positive impact of diversity in a Strategic Finance article, “Tangible Value in Intangible Diversity.” He writes:

“New products, processes, and markets grow out of a diverse, inclusive work environment where the intangible nature of thought mixes with tangible solutions. People are happy and eager to contribute when they know their perspectives, experiences, and ideas are welcomed and considered.”

Inclusivity, in this regard, generates innovation and new ideas. As businesses struggle with fierce competition, shrinking resources, and growing demands, creating an environment in which all views are welcomed makes good business sense. I am hopeful that as more and more organizations adopt diversity and inclusion practices, women stand a better chance of making it to the top.


  1. ”The Share of Female CEOs in the Fortune 500 Dropped by 25% in 2018,” Fortune, May 21, 2018
  2. ”PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi Is ‘Concerned’ Her Departure Will Leave So Few Female CEOs,” Fortune, August 6, 2018
  3. ”The Number of Female Chief Executives Is Falling,” The New York Times, May 23, 2018
  4. ”Women in the Workplace,” McKinsey, October 2017
  5. ”3 Lessons: Diversity Diligence,” Associations Now, March/April 2017
  6. ”The Results Are In: Women Are Great for Business, But Still Getting Pushed Out,” Forbes, September 22, 2017
  7. ”New research from The Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY reveals significant correlation between women in corporate leadership and profitability,”, February 2016

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