WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The National Association for Female Executives announced this week their "Top 30 Companies for Executive Women," adding that it is a lack of training, not ambition that has prohibited women from attaining the top slots in corporations. Avon Products remained for the sixth consecutive year NAFE's top company for women.
Scholastic, Liz Claiborne, Wellpoint, Hewlett-Packard, Charming Shoppes, Kraft Foods, The New York Times Company, IBM, and Prudential Financial rounded out the top ten companies on the list.
This year's corporate winners all have women that have entered roles as chief operating officer, managing director, general manager, or presidents of operations both domestically and abroad. Avon, Charming Shoppes, Hewlett-Packard, and Xerox all have female CEO's, and at Liz Claiborne and Scholastic, women dominate the ranks up and down except for the top spot.
NAFE head Betty Spence noted that in the corporate world overall there are very few women in the CEO spot because of bias.
"Only eight women chief executives are running Fortune 500 companies because most companies primarily groom men for the top jobs," Spence said.
She added, "where the best companies for women stand out is their focus on moving women into the historically male province of profit-and-loss responsibility."
In selecting the overall top 30 companies for women this year, NAFE focused on the number of women in the management pipeline, as well as those already holding senior positions. It also looked for programs and policies that ensure training and job rotation and enforce accountability for women's success.
Spence pointed to a variety of programs that these companies have adopted in order to provide more training, eliminate compensation differences between male and female employees, and monitoring programs that identify talent and potential in employees.
Avon human resources official Jill Kanin-Lovers said, "It's not just about the programs here at Avon, it is also about the culture and environment."
Avon also has a variety of programs that address leadership development from many angles. In 2002, the company launched an international women's leadership forum, where women from around the world met to discuss the issues that they faced operating in their countries as well as new products, focusing on the cultural context that the leadership would need to run operations abroad.
Avon also offers other extensive leadership development programs as well as their Fast Track and Jump Start career development programs, which are for both men and women. These programs identify talented employees and help provide a career path, the proper training, and guidance.
"Some of the things we have done have benefited men too," Kanin-Lovers said. "It is not about a single gender. We want to get the most out of all of our employees, and I think it has helped our company a lot. We have been able to tap into a broader talent base than many companies dare to."
Tagged as "the company for women", Kanin-Lovers indicated that is how the Avon approaches not only their products, but also their community involvement and how they operate internally.
Avon is the world's largest direct-selling company, with annual sales revenues of nearly $6 billion, and is currently at a one of their highest stock prices.
Scholastic Corporation was number two among the top ten companies.
"It is mostly female at Scholastic, so it puts us at an advantage," said Debby Fuller, director of human resources. "It is not only our culture, but also our maternity leave program allows women to return to their jobs comfortably, and what attracts and retains women to us."
Scholastic is the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books, and has approximately 80 percent female employees.
For companies unlike Scholastic, "I would start with training and mentoring. Though mentoring is more critical for women in organizations because of the guidance it provides. Also, not necessarily maternity leave, but family friendly policies are critical," said Fuller.
Susan Wilson Solovic, CEO of Small Business Television, noted some of the drawbacks that companies without women in the executive suite might encounter.
"Women consumers pay more attention to the make up of companies, and they drive 80 percent of purchases," Solovic said. "These companies will be hurt in the consumer marketplace and by not hiring women will be losing great talent. Women are great relationship managers, great communicators, and are able to run companies as much as men."
Solovic is also the author of "The Girls' Guide to Power and Success" and "Reinvent Your Career."
"Women outnumber men in undergraduate and masters degrees, so there is no reason to see this gender gap in corporate America," Solovic said.
In order to be eligible for the NAFE "Top 30 Companies for Executive Women," companies with a minimum of two women on the board complete a comprehensive application that focuses on the number of women in senior ranks (compared to men and to the company population), including questions about the programs and policies which support women's advancement.
NAFE is the largest women's professional association in the United States and the largest women business owners' organization in the country, and provides resources and services through education, networking, and public advocacy to its members.