Ursula Burns is by no means the stereotypical CEO – she is the first African American woman to lead a major US corporation and is widely recognised as one of the most powerful women in the world – but that doesn’t mean she’s overlooked the alarming disparity which survives in the C-suite.
“Half the world are women, but they are literally in single-digit numbers in the C-suite,” said the frank-speaking New Yorker. “How in the hell can that be?”
On average, women hold 11% of board seats at the world’s largest companies. Norway — the first country in the world to impose a gender quota for large corporations — leads the way, with women accounting for 36.1% of board members but Burns said this isn’t as a result of an imposed quota but rather a different corporate mentality.
The situation in Dubai supports her claim – in December 2012, a law was issued obliging government departments and related companies to include women on their boards, yet women make up just 1.5% of seats.
“You can keep setting all the quotas you want, and you can make a law, and still the overwhelming majority of the women would never have access to those seats,” said Burns.
Instead, companies need to show a genuine and dedicated interest in training and developing women for executive positions, said Burns.
The 56-year-old businesswoman has worked with Xerox since 1980, when she began her career as a summer intern – by 2009 Burns became CEO and the following year she was made chairman.
She said her success is largely down to luck – “I just happened to go to a company that was really interested,” she said. “Not by law, but just really interested.”