In his Aug. 26 article about the selection of Trudy Rautio as CEO of Carlson Companies, David Phelps correctly quoted me as saying that one reason so few women head Fortune 500 corporations is perception ("Suddenly CEO, and ready to roll").

That is, people see that CEOs are mainly male, and therefore they conflate the notion of corporate leader and male. Perception, though, is only one factor in women's slow progress toward equality in top corporate positions. A recent issue of the Economist noted that many women move off the corporate high-fliers' track because demands of the workplace conflict with family responsibilities.

They may choose instead to start their own businesses, take leaves or turn down that important overseas assignment. A key way to keep the most able women in the pipeline to senior management is to make the workplace more family-friendly, through policies and norms.

Finally, changes in public policies can help. For example, public investment in early child care programs or parental leave requirements should further equalize opportunities for women. When it comes to barriers to women's leadership, perception is clearly part of the problem, but so are corporate and public policies and practices.


The writer is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.