This is the big factor holding women back from CEO jobs

February 7, 2020, 1:27 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! A scientist working to address the coronavirus crisis fights rumors that her lab caused it, Christina Koch earns a place in history, and women without P&L experience lose out on CEO gigs. Have a lovely weekend. 

– FAQs on P&Ls. When those of us who work on Fortune‘s annual Most Powerful Women list sit down to start evaluating candidates, there’s one question that comes up early and often for any executive who’s not yet a CEO: Does she have P&L—a.k.a. profit-and-loss—responsibility?

The reason we focus on that question is because it’s the same one corporate boards and bosses ask when they’re looking for contenders for CEO and other top jobs. And as this fascinating Wall Street Journal story by Vanessa Fuhrmans illustrates, lack of P&L experience is one of the biggest factors holding women back in the upper reaches of corporate America.

I’d encourage you to read Fuhrmans’ story in full, but here are just a couple of the points that jumped out at me:

– Companies are paying attention to the need to elevate women—or at least a woman or two—into their senior ranks, but they’re not being “methodical” when it comes to grooming high-potential women for the top jobs. Research backs this observation, showing that female employees are getting less leadership training, less encouragement to aim for a P&L role, and less sponsorship their male counterparts.

– Excellence can actually hurt a woman’s chance at advancing. Preparing for a CEO role typically means learning many facets of the business (particularly the revenue-generating ones). But when women are doing great work in, say finance or HR, bosses are often loathe to pull them out of that role in order to let them try their hand at a job with a P&L. And women can be reluctant to force the issue, hoping their good work will eventually be rewarded.

– Some of these behaviors are driven by an unspoken assumption that women are just less ambitious than men. Yet the Journal notes that an individual company’s culture can make a difference—one study found that women who rate their firm positively on gender diversity are more likely to say that they’ve pursed a leadership position than those who give their employer poor marks.

While none of these findings are exactly surprising, the piece does an admirable job of digging into each issue and spelling out how these myriad factors intertwine. But perhaps the most compelling aspect of the story is the many women who boldly shared their own experiences—some positive, others painful and frustrating—attempting to navigate the many, many slippery rungs that lead to that elusive corner office.

Kristen Bellstrom

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this newsletter misspelled Vanessa Fuhrmans’ name. We regret the error.


- Don't forget the work. Christina Koch was celebrated as one of the astronauts to complete the first all-female spacewalk—after suit-size hurdles—in October. But that feat was a matter of coincidence and timing, as was her new record: the longest stay by a female astronaut in space, at 328 days. This essay argues that we should also pay homage to Koch's achievements more directly related to her skill: research on the role of gravity on plants—which could affect our ability to grow food in space. New York Times

- The ClassPass curse? ClassPass, founded by current chairman Payal Kadakia, has had some unfortunate effects on fitness studios, according to this reporting. Studios say the fitness platform's pricing algorithm is causing them to lose money and encouraging former direct customers to start paying less via the subscription program—a situation that they believe has escalated as the new unicorn pursues profitability ahead of a potential IPO. ClassPass says, "We are always rooting for our partners to succeed. Doing so is core to our mission, while also being in our economic best interest." Vice

- Space spinoff. SpaceX will spin off and pursue an IPO for Starlink, its business that plans to provide internet service from space. SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell says that Starlink is "the right kind of business that we can go ahead and take public," compared to the rest of the private space exploration company. Bloomberg

- Food for thought. Ahead of Land O'Lakes' 100th birthday, the cooperative led by CEO Beth Ford is rolling out a new marketing approach that highlights the people behind the brand: farmers. The move is meant to appeal to shoppers who increasingly want a deeper connection to what they eat. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: SoftBank partner Kirthiga Reddy joins the board of WeWork. Walmart hires Adobe chief human resources officer Donna Morris as chief people officer. Sara Patterson, former VP of HR and talent for Walmart eCommerce, joins Compass as chief people officer. Former Brittania Industries CEO Vinita Bali joins the board of Cognizant. Rothy's hires Method's Saskia van Gendt as head of sustainability. Forbes promoted Lynn Schlesinger to CMO. 


- Batting away rumors. Scientist Shi Zhengli runs one of the world's largest databases about bat-related viruses out of a lab in Wuhan, China. Her work has proved crucial as researchers raced to understand the origins of the coronavirus. But others are now blaming Shi for the virus, saying it escaped from her lab. As she works to study the virus, she responded to the online rumors on WeChat, saying that the disease "had nothing to do with the lab." South China Morning Post

- BOW down. Fun fact: women are now the fastest-growing demographic in hunting. The state of New York is now counting on them to deal with deer overpopulation on Long Island. The state's Department of Environmental Conservation even runs a program called BOW, or Becoming an Outdoor Woman. New York Times

- DNA downturn. Just like its fellow woman-led DNA testing competitor 23andMe, laid off employees this week amid a slowdown in the consumer DNA testing market. CEO Margo Georgiadis cited the fact that "most early adopters have entered the category" already. The layoffs affected 6% of Ancestry's workforce, or about 100 people. CNBC

- Showing restraint. Kim Kardashian West talks to the New York Times about her shapewear line Skims, now selling via Nordstrom. She's learning "restraint"—fitting for a shapewear venture—about what to spend her time and brand power on. New York Times


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How Kelly Clarkson's talk show became the purest joy on TV—and the first daytime hit in almost a decade The Daily Beast

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