Closing the gender gap: Female CEOs from Gap Inc. share wisdom

By Liz Rosenberg

When we pulled together a room full of women at Gap Inc. headquarters, recently, it was an opener to what we intend to be an ongoing conversation about gender equity and leadership. More than 150 women joined us to glean wisdom from two female CEOs: Nancy Green, president and CEO of Athleta, and Sonia Syngal, president and CEO of Old Navy.

Bringing more women into the boardroom

"We so appreciate leaders from Gap Inc., a model for gender and pay equity, sharing their insights with our community," says Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA Programs for Working Professionals at Berkeley Haas (our Evening & Weekend MBA and MBA for Executives programs), which hosted the event.

"Women need to see themselves reflected in the boardroom, in the C-suite, and in leadership roles across sectors," says Jamie. "They need to see themselves in the MBA programs that can build their business skills and surround them with the inspiration and support of other successful women. We want to start conversations that help make this happen." 

At Berkeley Haas, these kinds of conversations are a regular occurrence, with women in student leadership positions, a pioneering and thriving annual conference, and our new Center For Gender, Equity and Leadership (CGEL).

Leading the Gap Inc. discussion was CGEL Founding Director Kellie McElhaney, associate adjunct professor, who kicked things off with a couple of statistics:

  • In the S&P 500 companies, only 5.4 percent of CEOs are women. Of those, 2 are women of color.
  • Women account for only 20 percent of board seats and 20 percent of C-suite positions in these companies.


Envisioning a more equitable business world

She shared CGEL's vision for a fair and equitable business world where all have equal opportunity, and about Berkeley Haas initiatives, such as classes on the business case for women, managing a diverse workforce, and having difficult conversations around race.

"Companies with women in leadership launch more new products, and teams are more productive when diverse and equitable," Kellie noted. But, she pointed out,  when women don't see themselves reflected around the table, they may not be interested in joining a firm, even if they've been actively recruited—concerned about fitting in or being able to be effective.


At Gap Inc., three women sit on the board, 69 percent of store managers are women, and three of the company's brands (Old Navy, Intermix, and Athleta).have women at the helm. 

Though both had career detours along the way, an interest in clothes, fashion, and retail sparked early for both Sonia and Nancy. For Old Navy's Sonia Sygnal, it began when an aunt taught her how to sew and make clothes for her Barbie™. She soon began designing, making, and selling clothes for humans and notes that, "Half the girls at my prom were wearing my dresses."


Athleta's Nancy Green also learned to sew young and applied her love for clothes and fashion to retail work in stores, including at NAME on Telegraph Ave. while an undergrad at Berkeley, where, she says, "I got to lead a team and run and grow a business."


From reframing failure to actively seeking out big challenges and spending NO time or energy on guilt, find some of the wisdom shared by Nancy and Sonia over at Gap Inc.'s careers blog.


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Posted on March 7, 2018
Liz Rosenberg
Liz was Senior Associate Director of Admissions for the Full-time MBA Program at Berkeley Haas from 2018-2019. She holds an MBA from Boston University and came to Haas after gaining years of experience in retail for Gap and Gymboree, in financial services for Putnam Investments, as well as engaging in significant non-profit volunteer work. Prior to joining the Full-time Berkeley MBA Program, she spent 7 years in admissions for Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals. She loves her work in admissions because of the connections she's able to develop with students, all of whom bring such amazing diversity of personal and professional experience to the program.