What are corporations looking for in female executives?
Jane Evans, an executive vice-president of General Mills Inc., who heads that company's fashion group in New York, says corporations are looking for women who can shoulder big responsibilities, be creative in their decisionmaking, and motivate and stimulate other people. They must, she says, know how to manage as well as to lead.
She tells the audiences she addresses, as well as the women in middle-management positions in her own company, that corporations are seeking female executives who have developed a sense of personal style and the ability to handle themselves well within the organization. They are looking for wit, warmth, and a sense of humor.
So far, this list of requirements might seem equally applicable to the male executive. But, says Miss Evans, there is one more prerequisite that makes a large though subtle difference. Corporations are searching for women who know how to help men open up, share their feelings, and become comfortable with women. One of the major barriers to the promotion of women is the male executive who does not understand women and can only look on them in such supportive roles as wives, mothers, daughters, and secretaries.
''There is still a degree of hostility and suspicion toward women in the corporate world,'' Miss Evans explains. ''If we are to be accepted, we must be prepared to accept the fact that most men are accustomed to meeting women on a limited set of terms. There are still so few of us around in top management ranks that few men have ever had opportunity to work with, or for, a woman.''
Another obstacle is that many bright, qualified women have not developed the personal or team skills so critical to making progress in the corporate world. ''Teamwork,'' says Miss Evans, ''is something that men learn early, and most women do not - a fact which places them at a disadvantage and reinforces their sense of isolation from the organization.''
If the ranks are thin when it comes to women who possess all the qualifications, one reason may be that most women haven't been in the upper echelons of management long enough to develop them. Jane Evans says she is one of only two female executives in the United States who are responsible for handling a budget of more than $500 million. The other is Linda Wachner, president of Max Factor & Co. cosmetics.
As vice-president of General Mills's fashion division, which includes Izod, Ship 'n Shore, Monet Jewelers, Foot-Joy, and Lark Luggage, Miss Evans has 12 men reporting to her - men who are chairmen, presidents, and vice-presidents.
She herself reports to Donald F. Swanson, vice-chairman of General Mills in Minneapolis, who says of her: ''Jane Evans is an excellent executive, a creative thinker, a good manager and developer of people. She, in turn, will help other women achieve the more senior levels of management in our corporation.''
Speaking before a recent meeting of the New York chapter of Women in Communications, Miss Evans outlined five guidelines she has found helpful in her own career:
* Have a dream. Conceptualize and envision what you want to do so you can influence others to join in making it a reality. The capacity to communicate your vision in order to gain the support of others is a prerequisite for leadership.
* Learn how to read, write, and talk in a way that will enable you to communicate with your co-workers on all levels. Such skills are necessary if you are to direct and inspire others.
* Develop the ability to delegate responsibility and to ask for help in getting a job done. This enables you to tap the energies and abilities of both your subordinates and your peers.
* Develop a plan of sound objectives and learn to keep score. Give yourself an annual review and objectively evaluate and measure your performance and your contribution to the management team.
* Be tough-minded but not hardhearted. The business world is very competitive and requires fortitude, persistence, and judgment.
Unlike many women in managerial ranks today, this pleasantly decisive executive has enjoyed quick professional elevation as well as a happy marriage and a young son. She admits that finding or making suitable support systems for female executives with children will be one of the more critical issues of the next five years. Until such support systems are found, she says, women are going to have trouble making it to the top.