Fortune released its annual list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business today, and, as one might predict, the list features an impressive group of ladies who could probably buy your entire family with their end-of-year bonuses. And while the professional achievements of women from Oprah to Marissa Mayer are impressive, spending too much time dwelling on the few women who have achieved corporate success against the odds distracts from the fact that we're still nowhere near where we should be. Why is it that in 2012, women are still being mommy tracked around and stonewalled out of board rooms?
On the same day that Fortune's list was released, there were two other interesting bits of news related to women in the workplace. First, a piece about the sad tale of Deutsche Bank's Kelley Voelker, a former executive who sued after she says she was mommy tracked away from the success she felt she'd earned. According to ABC, after a 14-year career as a Vice President, she was turned down for a promotion because she was a woman who took maternity leave. Additionally, her male colleagues acted like drunken 12-year-olds. Her bosses doubted that it was possible for a woman to have children and perform well at work. And then there's this:
When Voelker questioned a decision made by one of her superiors in fall 2009, another executive said, "I'd watch your step - she's pregnant," the suit claims. In response, her supervisor replied, "No need to tell me. I've got one at home," referring to his pregnant wife.
Another male colleague asked her: "When is your husband gonna get it together so you can stay home with the kids?" Voelker told ABC News.
When she filed a lawsuit against the company, she was promptly fired. Girl power.
The second item of news germane to the Fortune list is this bit in Bloomberg Business Week about how we don't have more women on corporate boards not because the world of Serious Business is filled with raging sexists, but rather because serving on a corporate board is such a cushy, easy job that people on corporate boards never quit.
Only 291 new directors joined S&P 500 index boards during this year's proxy season, according to Spencer Stuart. A decade ago, the number was 401. At the same time, the average director's age has risen to 62.6, from 60.1. CEOs have to handle seismic shifts in their business with advisers whose kids don't even get the fuss over Facebook (FB).
Would you quit? Board of Directors positions typically come with quarter million dollar paychecks and only ask for a few weeks' work in return. It's a way for "retired" businessmen to continue to earn an income and dust off their old Business Suits and keep their ties buff. But, the Business Week piece argues, that's keeping women from coming up to take their place.
The solution? Term limits for corporate board members.
Six-year limits have allowed the U.K. to catapult ahead of the U.S. in gender diversity, with FTSE 100 companies raising the percentage of women directors to 17.3 percent this year, from 12.5 percent two years ago. The results don't stem from quotas, but from greater opportunities to bring in talent. Only 4 percent of S&P 500 companies now have term limits, notes Spencer Stuart's Julie Daum, and those terms tend to be in the 10- to 15-year range. Meanwhile, U.S. companies that bother to set a fixed retirement age for directors have consistently been raising it-to the point at which 72 or older is now the norm.
Yeah! Quit your jobs, you old coots!
Blocking women from the board room doesn't only suck from the perspective of women who don't have the chance to wear the extra large spiked shoulderpads reserved for people who are officially Business As Fuck. It also hurts business when a bunch of dinosaurs try to figure out how to use Facebook, or understand the point of Twitter. A lack of board room term limits is actually slowing progress. And that's not good.
So, how will women get to the point where they're proportionally represented in board rooms? Litigiousness? Living out our entire careers in drag, like some kind of reverse Tootsie meets Mrs. Doubtfire Gets Her MBA type scenario? Whatever it is, let's hope progress isn't this slow. Fifty Most Powerful Women Lists can only get a lady so far.