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Taking Charge
[C&EN, July 2, 2001]

Still Few Women At The Top
[C&EN, July 2, 2001]

Industry Women Speak Out
[C&EN, July 2, 2001]

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July 2, 2001
Volume 79, Number 27
CENEAR 79 27 p.3
ISSN 0009-2347
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Woman On Top

Madeleine Jacobs

You've got to love the title of this editor's page if you're a woman. Okay, so I stole it from last year's movie starring Penelope Cruz, who played a woman of remarkable culinary talents who--spurred by a wayward husband--becomes a famous chef on a TV cooking show (and yes, the title of the movie is a double entendre). What does this have to do with chemistry Well, everything--the chemistry of relationships, the chemistry of cooking, and the good chemistry associated with making it to the top of one's profession.

LEADER Keeth discusses her vision for Shell Chemical with C&EN's Tullo.
That is what the woman on the cover of this week's Chemical & Engineering News has done. Fran Keeth took over yesterday as the president and chief executive officer of Shell Chemical Co., the U.S. arm of Shell Chemicals Ltd. It is the first time that a woman has become the head of a major U.S. chemical company--Shell Chemical ranked 11th in C&EN's survey of the Top 75 U.S. chemical companies, with sales of nearly $6.3 billion. As described in the profile by C&EN Assistant Editor Alex Tullo (see page 15), Keeth has had a distinguished career at Shell, defying stereotypes that she says have held many women back.

By any measure, Keeth's appointment is a breakthrough, one that I hope heralds a major transformation in the chemical industry. There's a long way to go, however. How far is made abundantly clear in two other stories in this week's C&EN.

On page 18, Tullo presents statistics on women on the boards of directors and in the executive ranks of the chemical industry in 2000. This is the second year that C&EN has compiled statistics from C&EN's Top 75 chemical companies. Not much has changed. The table still contains a lot of zeros: In the 42 publicly traded companies for which information could be gleaned, there were no in-house women on the boards of directors, no women CEOs, no women chief operating officers. In terms of outside directors on the boards, women are better represented--10.8% of the 436 board members surveyed are women. This is slightly below the average for Fortune 500 companies surveyed by Catalyst, a New York City-based organization, which found 12.5% of all board members were women.

On page 41, Special Features Editor Celia Henry looks at the women managers who are in a position to change this all-male picture. She found that, despite the dismal number of women who have reached the top of the corporate ladder, women in lower and middle management are enjoying their careers. A number of these managers, representing a wide variety of companies, shared their stories and advice with Henry.

Their observations are both illuminating and disturbing. While many barriers to advancement for women have been removed, hurdles still exist. Listen to L. Shannon Davis of Solutia: "The overt [discrimination] is gone. I do think that there still exists a fair amount of very subtle bias that shows up in the placement of women in particular jobs in industry. When women show up in very large numbers in staff positions instead of line positions, when the women are all going to the total quality jobs, the communications jobs, human resources, public relations, finance, they're never going to be business managers that way because they're never going to get the product line business experience that they have to have to ultimately be a business leader."

Do women make choices that take them out of the career path that can lead them to the top Of course they do, but more frequently choices are made for them. If you're a manager, male or female, in industry--or academia or government for that matter--please read Henry's story to see what kinds of subconscious biases you may hold that impede the progress of women in your organization. And then act on what you learn: You hold the power to help a woman make it to the top--and that's not a double entendre.

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