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Women's move into executive ranks still lagging


Cristina Gallo-Aquino, vice president and controller for Fortune 500 company Ryder System, credits her rise to the executive ranks to having her supervisor advocate for her and to making sure she personally worked across various divisions.

Walter Michot / MCT Enlarge

During a recent special, Barbara Walters asked Oprah Winfrey whether she regretted not having children. Oprah said decisively she couldn't have reached the career heights she has while caring for a child.

No one can put in 14-hour workdays and be supermom or superdad. Yet in 2010, women parents have risen to the top: 11 of 12 female chief executive officers at Fortune 500 firms are moms, a survey found.

Research by Catalyst, a nonprofit organization working for women's advancement, reveals that women's progression in boardrooms, executive office suites, and the ranks of companies' top earners has stagnated. The report is the fifth to find that annual change in female leadership remained flat.

Catalyst also looked at male and female MBAs with high potential right out of school and followed them 10 years. From their first job, women are paid less and receive fewer promotions and raises. "They start behind and never catch up," said Michael J. Chamberlain, a senior director with Catalyst.

Firms have spent millions in diversity training, recruiting female grads, teaching leadership skills.

But today, 86 percent of Fortune 500 executive officers are men. Catalystfound that although women have mentors, men more often have higher-level sponsors who champion them. Mentoring is not as effective as is sponsorship, when someone with clout advocates for an underling.

Cristina Gallo-Aquino is a recently promoted high-level exec at a Fortune 500 firm. The mom of two became vice president and controller at Ryder System. She said she has advanced because she worked to get her supervisor to advocate and she showcased skills across divisions.

"The more people who have had positive experiences with you, the more likely you are to succeed. That's how you build champions."

Carnival Cruise Lines doesn't have a formal program to identify women leaders, but Brenda Yester has climbed to senior vice president of revenue management. She landed a promotion in April that reports directly to the CEO. "People I mentor expect the company to do it for them, and I tell them you have to create the path for yourself," she said.

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