Writing recently for Fast Company, Sally Blount, dean of Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, argued that “we have a responsibility to encourage and support young women to be deliberate in dreaming about the people they want to become.” They need to dream big from the start.
The first job women take after leaving school is critical, Blount writes. “If we want our best and brightest young women to become great leaders, we have to convince more of them that their first job out of college ought to be in business, and they should be going for the big jobs regardless of what career they want to pursue,” she wrote.
But Sarah Dillard and Vanessa Lipschitz did some research to learn if the 24 women who are CEOs at Fortune 500 companies began their careers by going for the “big jobs” right out of school. Most did not, according to their report in Harvard Business Review. Instead, they benefited from a long-term commitment to a company.
What they found was that “over 70 percent of the 24 CEOs spent more than 10 years at the company they now run, becoming long-term insiders before becoming CEO.” Among male Fortune 500 CEOs, the media tenure at their company is 15 years. For the 24 women CEOs the median is 23 years.
“This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers,” Dillard and Lipschitz write.
Only two of the 24 female CEOs has an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school, compared with 4% of men. And just 25% of the women (and 16% of the male CEOs) hold MBAs from a top-10 school. There is something inspiring in these women’s stories, Dillard and Lipschitz write. It is “the notion that regardless of background, you can commit to a company, work hard, prove yourself in multiple roles, and ultimately ascend to top leadership.”
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