Boosting female executives


Published October 9, 2006 3:00PM (EDT)

Wouldn't it be fantastic if women used their consumer power to influence gender parity in the workplace? Well, we may be getting closer. From the Financial Times: "Peter Brabeck, chief executive of Nestlé, came under fire from women at a conference in France after he told them that the world's largest food group, most of whose customers are women, had no female managers on its executive board." Ha!

In his speech at the Women's Forum conference on Saturday, Brabeck inadvertently highlighted the disconnect between paying lip service to equality and actually having equal representation at the highest levels of business: He lauded "female values" because "their [women's] way of thinking and acting fits well with new societal and business requirements, such as flatter hierarchies," according to the Times. Brabeck explained that Nestlé's executive board isn't currently enjoying the benefits of these "female values" because it hasn't found women with enough international exposure for the job. It's always something, isn't it?

Brabeck's fumble doesn't necessarily mean Nestlé is a sexist cesspool -- as he pointed out, the company does have women on its regular board of directors. And, in his backpedaling, Brabeck emphasized the importance of equal opportunity, saying that as the father of three girls, he found it "intolerable to think that one of my daughters will lose an opportunity because she's a woman." But lip service isn't enough -- upper-management visibility is critical. International Crisis Group vice chairwoman Maria Livanos Cattaui underscored the impact a single company can have, telling the Times that "groups that make it their job to expose the metrics and trends and results will increase peer pressure in the marketplace."

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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