The ‘glass ceiling’: The bad spin

By Larry Elder

So, how goes the “corporate fight for women”? Not well, at least according to the New York Times.

Catalyst, a research firm, regularly publishes a report on the progress of women in corporate America. The numbers showed impressive gains from the year 2000 to 2002, a period of economic sluggishness. During that period, the percentage of women occupying corporate officer positions rose from 12.5 percent to 15.7 percent, or a 25 percent increase. And in the last seven years, from 1995 to date, the number of women in corporate officer positions has nearly doubled. In real numbers, women now hold 2,140 of the 13,673 top-ranking executive positions at Fortune 500 companies.

It also examines the number of women occupying “positions of clout” at major corporations. “Clout titles” include CEO, chairman, vice chairman, president, chief operating officer, senior executive vice president and executive vice president. In the last seven years, from 1995 to date, the percentage of women occupying clout positions increased a dizzying 400 percent, from 1.9 to 7.9 percent.

Now, many newspaper articles high-fived the achievement, both with positive headlines and lead paragraphs:

  • Los Angeles Times headline: “Survey Finds Women Holding More ‘Corporate Clout’ Titles.” First paragraph: (Associated Press) “Despite all the recent shocks to corporate America and the faltering economy, women continued to make inroads into the upper ranks at Fortune 500 companies, a survey being released today said.”

  • Dallas Morning News headline: “Women Make Gains in Corporate World, Hold 16 Percent of ‘Clout’ Jobs.” First paragraph: (Knight-Ridder) “Women have nearly doubled their ‘clout titles’ in corporate America over less than a decade, according to a study to be released Monday by the New York research firm Catalyst.”

  • USA Today headline: “Women Gain Corporate Slots.” First paragraph: “Women continued to scale their way to the top jobs at the biggest companies, even in a sluggish economy that offered fewer chances at promotion.”

  • Washington Post headline: “Women Rising in Corporate Ranks, Report Says.” First paragraph: “Nancy Pelosi’s ascent to the Democratic Party leadership in the House of Representatives reflects the steady progress of women in the political world. According to a new report, women also continue to climb the corporate ladder.”

  • Wall Street Journal headline: “Women Are Holding More Corporate Posts.” First paragraph: “Women hold one out of six corporate officer positions at Fortune 500 companies, or nearly 16 percent, according to a study by Catalyst, an organization that studies issues relating to women and business.”

Other papers repeated the Associated Press and Knight-Ridder stories, with headlines trumpeting the good news, such as “Report Shows Women’s Fortunes Rising at Corporations” in the Charlotte Observer, and “They Are Women, Let’s Hear Them Roar” in the Toronto Star.

The Chicago Tribune ran the same Associated Press story as the Los Angeles Times, with the headline: “’02 Good for Women on Top.” But then things turned grim, and subsequent Chicago Tribune stories turned sour. A later Trib headline read: “Number of Women in Top Business Ranks Inches Up,” followed a week later by “Number of High-Ranking Females Rising Slowly.” Same newspaper, same information, decidedly different slant.

This brings us to the New York Times, about which Bernard Goldberg, in his book “Bias,” said, “The [New York] Times is a newspaper that has taken the liberal side of every important social issue of our time, which is fine with me. But if you see the New York Times editorial page as middle of the road, one thing is clear: You don’t have a clue.”

The New York Times currently, for example, leads the charge to force the private golf course, Augusta National, to admit a female. Even though polls show that over 70 percent of women register indifference about the issue, the New York Times, from three months ago to date, ran 57 articles, columns or editorials about the “controversy.” Just by contrast, the Washington Post ran 33 articles, and the Los Angeles Times 38. Can you say “agenda”?

So how did the New York Times, as well as some other papers, greet the latest report on the tremendous progress of women in corporate America?

  • New York Times headline: “Number of Women in Upper Ranks Rises a Bit.” First paragraph: “A survey of executive and high-earning corporate women being published today shows percentage gains so small as to seem inconsequential (emphasis added), but for one thing: They were achieved during a recession, when many businesses were cutting back.”

I told my female assistant about the Times article. She said, “Who wrote it?”

“Someone named Mary Williams Walsh,” I replied.

“Stereotypical woman,” she huffed, “can’t handle the math.”

To repeat, my assistant said that.