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November 9, 2012 6:46 PM

Business

Women Executives vs. The Glass Ceiling

Women get a raw deal in business....

Women get a raw deal in business.

Even in fashion -- where corporate life and death depend on knowing what women will look good in and what they'll buy -- it's a world run by men.

I recently explored the why of this with some of fashion's top women executives, including Tory Burch, Neiman Marcus' Karen Katz, HSN's Mindy Grossman and Ann Inc.'s Kay Krill.


They are all intelligent, informed and talented.

Women make up only 1.7 percent of the retail ceo's in the Fortune 500. A smaller sample of just fashion and related companies found 13.2 percent of the ceo's were women -- a better but still disgraceful slice of the pie.

Many of the industry's best leaders are simply not making it to the top. That's a huge waste.

One point that came up several times in my reporting, but didn't make it explicitly into the article, was that women need to help other women along.

The executives I interviewed said they felt it was important to mentor other women, to show them the ropes.

It appears to be an area that needs more work.

"Women who are currently in leadership roles are not always as willing to help other women up the ladder as one would think they'd be," said a WWD.com reader, HTS, who commented on the article. "While certainly many women do love being mentors, it is not a universal sisterhood by any means and in fact women can be tougher on other women than men are."

The larger problem, I think, boils down to inertia and a certain laziness when it comes to addressing sexism in the workplace.

We no longer live in the world depicted in "Mad Men." The discrimination is not so overt. But the numbers and the experiences of countless women show that we collectively have dropped the ball on the issue.

The solution, or at least part of it, seems to be to think about the massive disparity, to talk about it and, if necessary, to argue about it -- as we did in at least one editorial meeting.

It's hard to scare the elephant in the room if you don't at least try to see it and then poke at it some.
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