What do Pepsi, Kraft, DuPont, Xerox, and Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals have in common?
Two things: all would be on any list of archetypal American industrial conglomerates – the sort caricatured as being run by fat men with top hats and cigars – and all are, in fact, now being run by women Chairmen.
Note that they all use the title “Chairman”, not “Chair” or “Chairperson” or “Chairwoman”. That is in itself significant. Public sector types get very worked up about women not being in positions of authority, and see “inclusive” nomenclature, tokenistic quotas, and legislative nonsense like Britain’s Equality Act (have we mentioned that we dislike it?) as the best way to promote women.
The private sector adopts a different approach – it simply rewards success, irrespective of gender.
The irony is that the relaxed private sector actually has a better record of putting women at the very top of the pyramid than the obsessed public sector. You do not see many women Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governors, or Mayors of major cities, but you are seeing a lot of women CEOs and EVPs – future CEOs.
A system based solely on merit actually favours talented women more than public sector tokenism.
More than that, every woman who heads a company in the private sector – from a part-time small business to a major multinational – knows she is there because she deserves it. Unlike their public sector sisters, they did not need special treatment. Every one of them earned her place. The markets would not allow it any other way.
Note also that women are more likely to reach the very top in business in the meritocratic United States than in Europe, where there is more tokenistic legislation.
Some still complain that there are fewer women in higher management in private business than men. There probably always will be. Women are more likely to desire career breaks, for obvious reasons. That is their choice, and choices have consequences. That is the nature of choice.
What is now beyond dispute is that no position in private business in the West is inaccessible to a woman with the ability and the ambition to seek it.
In this, as in so much else, the public sector, instead of telling us what to do, should be trying to copy our example.