Posted on January 29, 2014 | SFGate | City Insider
By firstname.lastname@example.org (Heather Knight)
Women are finally making some strides in city government. We’ve got four women supervisors and a female assessor, city administrator, fire chief, director of public health and director of the port to name a few. (No woman mayor in more than a quarter century, however. Harumph.)
But when it comes to San Francisco’s private companies, there’s not much female representation at the top. According to a study last year from UC Davis, women make up just 11.9 percent of San Francisco private companies’ highest-paid executives and just 11.2 percent of their corporate directors. Studies also show that when women are among the leaders, the companies respond better to customers and make more money.
The city’s Department on the Status of Women wants to remedy the gender inequity, but isn’t going the usual route of mandating changes in the private sector. (A tax on each man hired, perhaps? Save your angry e-mails. We’re joking.) Instead, the department has challenged the city’s large companies to come up with an innovative way to remedy the inequity – and several will share their results at an invitation-only roundtable at SPUR Thursday morning.
The event has been a long undefined and we do mean, long undefined time coming. After the United States refused to join more than 180 other countries in signing the Human Rights Treaty for Women back in the 1990s, the city stepped in and signed on itself in 1998.
At first, it concentrated mostly on improving the lot of women in city government but recently expanded its focus to the private sector, as well.
“City government does better than the private sector in the sense that this is such a priority for us,” said Ann Lehman, the department’s senior gender adviser (now there’s a title!). “If you look across the board at who runs the city departments, we’ve done a fairly decent job. You can always say we could do better, but the numbers are higher for government than they are for the private sector.”
Last year, the Department on the Status of Women launched a Gender Equity Challenge, and many companies agreed to select one practice to promote gender equity and report back on whether it was successful. Companies that will present their results Thursday include Levi’s, Twitter and AT&T.
Lehman particularly praised Symantec, a security software maker located on Second Street. It met its own pledge of having the percentage of women in leadership positions and on its board of directors match the 27 percent level of women in the company at large.
Cecily Joseph, vice president of corporate responsibility at Symantec, said its board found top-notch new female members by tweaking its criteria. For example, it used to require that new members have been CEOs or have reported directly to CEOs, which eliminates most women.
“It really invigorates us and makes us want to do better,” she said of the city’s challenge. “Companies by their nature are competitive, and when we see what other companies are doing, we think, ‘Oh gosh, we can do that too.’”
That’s Lehman’s hope.
“I’d love to see it grow and that it become a little bit of the keeping up with the Jones so that each year companies want to outdo themselves with better programs and better practices and that things begin to change because it just becomes de rigueur that you have to comply with these kinds of social pressures,” she said.
– Heather Knight