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Career Path: Look for companies that level the field for women

| Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Twenty-two percent. That's a dividing line indicated by McKinsey & Co. research into women's share of the top ranks of U.S. companies.

There's been a lot of national discussion lately about whether women want to “lean in” to leadership roles. Some do. Some don't. It's a choice.

But for those who aspire to chief officer or board positions, Joanna Barsh, director emeritus at McKinsey, advises: “When you're looking at a company, find out their percentage of women at the top. Look for at least 22 percent. In our mind, that separates out the good companies.”

When at least 1 in 5 of the C-level officers — CEO, CFO, COO and the like — are women, or at least 1 in 5 board members are women, Barsh says that indicates the organization has been supporting women in leadership for a while.

Barsh devoted part of her career to the McKinsey Centered Leadership Project, focused on developing women leaders. She counsels women who want to hold top corporate positions to look for organizations that:

• Have been committed to gender diversity for at least 10 years. Some of the best in class have women-in-leadership records that go back 60, even 100, years.

• Have chief executives who have been vocal about being raised by mothers who worked or who speak out about “leveling the playing field” for underdogs.

• Have women in line management positions responsible for revenues or profits, not just in staff-support positions such as human resources, communication or community affairs.

• Have publicized flexible work options that can help balance family and career demands.

Barsh notes that a drive to reach the top is held by only about one-third of men and about 18 percent of women. Not everyone wants to take on the extra time, travel and stress to climb the ladder.

But if that's what you want, find fertile ground on which to stake your claim.

Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star; email her at

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