Calvert CEO Barbara Krumsiek Talks to Women Entrepreneurs about Corporations, Careers and Choices


Calvert CEO discusses why so few women are top corporate leaders and provides insights to navigating three distinct phases in women’s careers

At the recent fourth annual Tedx BayArea Global Women Entrepreneurs event in December 2013, Calvert CEO Barbara Krumsiek addressed an important question for women building their career: Why aren’t we there yet?

Before Barbara Krumsiek shared her insights underlying the question: Why aren’t we there yet?, she defined some key words: “We” are working women, particularly those in corporations; “there” refers to full equality, opportunity, access to capital and seats at the board table and in the C–suite; and “yet” is now.

According to Krumsiek, many corporations are systemically flawed. She has seen this in her 40–year career within large corporate environments and through her work at Calvert Investments assessing companies. Over time, flaws become embedded in a company’s operating culture. Even companies deemed as highly successful have some intrinsic flaws. An example of one systemic flaw is that diversity is not sufficiently represented in top leadership positions in our country’s top 100 companies. Through research and other studies, Calvert has found that gender equity—which can be a proxy for other diversity—is a key indicator of a company’s successes, including financial success.

Krumsiek contends that most C–corps are really he–corps, since the lion’s share of positions in upper management—including board of director seats—are held by men. Although well–educated and often well–prepared for leadership, women are not yet at parity with their male counterparts. In the 100 largest companies in the U.S., women occupy only 14% of senior executive positions and only 4% of CEO positions. Getting to parity will take time. To that end, Krumsiek offers women some insights and advice based on her own career journey.

Barbara Krumsiek divides a woman’s career into three stages: Meritocracy, the Messy Middle and Leadership.

Meritocracy is the first stage of a woman’s career and denotes a system in which talent is recognized and rewarded. It is not unusual for women to spend a decade or more in Meritocracy. Learning, growing and planning are important in this stage. But compensation is the keystone of Meritocracy. It is in Meritocracy, however, that many women experience a wage–gap with their male peers, a notable systemic flaw of many corporate cultures and typically unrelated to actual job performance.

The Messy Middle is likely the most challenging stage of a woman’s career and often the longest. This is the place where a corporation’s toxic culture may cause a woman to lose self–confidence or believe that her career opportunities are limited. It is in this career danger–zone that many talented women with high leadership potential drop out of the corporate workforce. The reasons for leaving vary, but Krumsiek believes that the exodus has much to do with the intrinsic flaws associated with the politics and cultures of large organizations.

Leadership is the position to which many career women aspire. It is at the far end of the career spectrum, and still largely closed to women. Today, women hold only 8% of the five highest paid positions within top companies. Women also comprise only 19% of S&P 100 companies’ director seats. Corporations are guided by their boards, and most top American companies simply do not have enough women serving on corporate boards.

Based on her experiences, Krumsiek offers career advice to women in each of the three career stages:

Meritocracy: Don’t let anyone else fill in the blanks. Women need to find discreet ways to share their strengths with leaders and peers. Competent, ambitious women can easily be overlooked or blatantly ignored if they are not adept at the subtle art of self–promotion. If you don’t tell your own story, you run the risk of someone else improvising it for you—and getting it wrong. Krumsiek advises, “Know your strengths and find ways to let others know how competent you are. Have confidence in yourself and write your own story.”

The Messy Middle: To move ahead, think obstacle course instead of corporate ladder. Change your thinking about climbing the corporate ladder and instead think of your career as an obstacle course. When assessing the business landscape, be guided by your gut as well as your intellect. Use positive politics whenever necessary. “Compassion and competition can coexist when you picture your career as an obstacle course and not a ladder,” notes Krumsiek.

Leadership: Declare your life balanced. No one can—or should—dictate how you balance your life. “Whatever you choose as your life balance is right,” says Krumsiek. Avoid others’ advice or judgments on having or not having it all. Do what is best for you, own it and declare it.

In conclusion, Barbara Krumsiek encourages women to make an impact by staying informed, supporting other women in their careers, facing challenges and challenging others, and investing in change. To do so will get women to wherever “there” may be in the Why aren’t we there yet? quandary.

Watch Barbara Krumsiek’s Tedx Talk at-


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