The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK (
) -- The exits of Carol Bartz from
and Sallie Krawchek from
Bank of America
highlight that women in America are making progress. These two women busted through a pretty thick glass ceiling.
Were they treated unfairly? There is no question that high profile women often get a disproportionate amount of scrutiny. This isn't a feminist comment. This is reality and sadly it may be due to the still novel state of high profiled women in the U.S. and to the progress of American women in general.
Out of 134 countries, the U.S. ranked 19th on the World Economic Forum's 2010 gender gap index. Nineteenth isn't great for the world's superpower, but this is the first year that the U.S. has made the top 20. It rose 12 places in just one year. It's sad that five developing countries scored higher than the U.S., but still the trend for America is very positive.
When it comes to male and female income equality, the U.S. ranked 64th; this isn't great for the superpower either. But recent progress has again been swift. In 2006, women earned 62% of what men earned for a similar position. Today it's 87%.
Political empowerment of women in the U.S. is a real eyesore. Here the U.S. ranked 40th. In the past 50 years there have been 53 female heads of state -- none for the superpower. Just 17% of Congress people are females, but twenty years ago it was 6%. Progress again.
The progress at the very top business spot isn't all that great. In 2010, female CEOs of
500 companies numbered 15. Today there are 14, but in 2006 there were 10. Still, going from one in 1972 to 14 in 2011, isn't really amazing progress, but they are all American women.
Were Krawchek or Bartz treated unfairly because they were women? We may never know. Bartz was ousted pretty quickly, but the stock performance of Yahoo! was below average. If she was guilty, as some allege, of not being forthright with communications and not offering a solid strategy to turn Yahoo! around, firing her sooner rather than later makes sense because she would not be able to turn around the company with these severe limitations in leadership.
Krawchek's situation seems different because her performance relative to her peers was fine. Some have alleged that her trouble began when she took a position that made her unpopular with people more skilled with politics. If that's the case she won't be the first executive that has learned that principles and positions, even objective ones, can take a back seat to office politics.
These two high profile female departures will undoubtedly offer some good lessons for anyone aspiring to the top spot. If women are paying even keener attention to these lessons, that would be a great outcome.
Women continue to face additional scrutiny in business (and politics), and this won't be changing any time soon. Women need to continue to pass difficult tests for trends in gender equality to continue trending up. Right now having 2.6% of
500 CEOs as females needs a much better upward trend.