If this is lagging behind, what does success look like?

The popular narrative today is that there is a “crisis” of women in math and science — or, more accurately, an under-representation of women in these disciplines. So naturally I was drawn to the headline this morning that IBM has named Virginia Rometty the new chief executive of the computer technology company.   

Rometty joins the ranks of a host of other women serving in leadership positions in the computer/technology/Internet world, including Meg Whitman (formerly of eBay) at Hewlett-Packard; Carly Fiorina, formerly of HP; Ursula Burns at Xerox; and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, to name a few.  

Her predecessor, Samuel Palmisano, emphasized Rometty’s expertise and credentials and stressed in an interview with The New York Times that IBM awarded the 54-year-old senior vice president the position “because she deserved it.” He even added, “It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies.”

I was encouraged to read Palmisano’s comment, which really didn’t need to be part of the conversation; but the fact is, as I’ve written here many times before, there is the pervasive attitude that society — and Washington — needs to provide women with equal outcomes, not just equal opportunities.

Too often we focus on the “limitations” of women’s success. Feminist groups on the left love to point out that in 2010, for instance, only 15 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list were headed by women and only 25 of the Fortune 1000 companies have female CEOs or presidents.

I’m largely unfazed by these numbers, because I accept the fact that men and women are different and make different choices. For both biological and cultural reasons, women appear to be less attracted to careers in math, science and business than in other disciplines. But overall women are in a considerably better professional position today than at any previous time, and they expect to see even more success in the future.  

So today I applaud Rometty’s accomplishments and hope the conversation that follows focuses on women’s far-reaching successes — and their freedom to make choices — rather than on why there aren’t more Romettys.


Sabrina L. Schaeffer is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and managing partner of Evolving Strategies.