You know an issue is gaining importance when studies and surveys begin looking into it. When world-class universities devote resources and research to understand its implications, the issue has worked its way into the public conscience.
Gender balance and “women in the workplace” issues have reached that plateau.
In May, 2015 Harvard Business School announced the Gender Initiative; its objective: “to accelerate progress of women leaders.” Such a prestigious and highly visible program adds to the voices decrying the dominance of gender stereotypes when it comes to making hiring, promotion, and board membership decisions.
“So much of what people think they know about gender is simply not substantiated by empirical evidence but instead is based on gender stereotypes,” according to Robin Ely, Harvard Business School professor and the person who heads the initiative. She’s right, of course, and she’s not alone.
A study by the Catalyst, Inc., a leading research and advisory organization focusing on women in the workplace, found that gender-based stereotyping often colors c-suite perceptions of women leaders, frequently misrepresenting their true talents. This, in turn, widens the gender gap.
The biggest red flag of the study, Women “Take Care,” Men “Take Charge:” Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed, was the finding that men consider women to be inferior problem solvers, one of the critical qualities for effective leadership and a hallmark behavior of a CEO. Since men far outnumber women at the top executive level, and are almost always the decision makers when it comes to hiring and promoting to the senior ranks, such misperceptions make a significant contribution to sustaining and even widening the gender gap in leadership.
Is there a solution to this challenging and vexing workplace issue?
There isn’t a magic wand to wave, but there are steps we can take, informed by research such as the Catalyst study and the Harvard initiative, that will begin to close the gap, or at least bridge it.
Shelley Correll, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, has developed a series of steps aimed at eliminating gender-bias. Among them is education.
Both men and women need to understand that workplace stereotypes exist and recognize how that influences decision-making. That will sensitize us to the biases we all have. Decision-making, ultimately, benefits from that self-awareness.
The hiring/promotion process has to have clear, dispassionate, gender-neutral criteria applied to all candidates. Numerous examples, and supporting research, indicate that more women will be hired and subsequently moved into leadership roles when they exist.
When decision-makers are held accountable for their decisions, they think the process through very carefully, taking into account the criteria.
Women also must be held accountable; accountable for the career decisions we make and the reasons we make them.
When women lower their expectations of getting hired in certain positions (reverse stereotyping, if you will), they are doing themselves – and women in general – a disservice. By avoiding jobs in male-dominated industries, for instance, we breathe life into the myths and misrepresentations of women’s capabilities.
We women need to see ourselves as capable and competitive with men for any job, and comfortable at any organizational level up to and including the c-suite. That requires us to rethink our career objectives, get the education and experience required and follow our career dreams wherever they take us.
Jan Molino is the CEO & Managing Partner of Aspire Ascend, a service provider and member-based organization, that helps women advance toward leadership. She is an experienced speaker and facilitated numerous forums and panel discussions on this subject. Jan can be reached at: email@example.com.
A 2015 Washington Post op-ed put a spotlight on the gender gap in technology, calling it “male-dominated,” and was critical of the disparity in pay between genders, calling it even more acute than in the rest of the business world. It took the position that if you are a woman looking for a job in the tech world, geography plays a big role in how well you get paid. A ranking by personal finance Web site, SmartAsset, released its “Best Cities for Women in Tech” report and named Washington, DC, as the number-one city based on the 2013 Census Bureau data. The Nation’s Capital led with women making up 37% of the tech workforce, the highest share of any of the fifteen cities on the list.
So why did Washington lead the list? The Federal government’s hiring policies are the answer, placing special emphasis on ensuring that its workforce reflects the population at large. But does Washington really deserve that number-one ranking? Sure, women have growth opportunities in the Nation’s Capital, but they are still not well-represented in executive-level positions.
Is it reasonable, then, to expect the tech sector to be a beacon of progressive thinking and include the female perspective in the top ranks of its leading and emerging companies?
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
While some of the highest-ranking executives in technology are women – Marissa Mayer, Meg Whitman and Sheryl Sandberg immediately come to mind – only 6% of CEO positions at the top 100 technology companies belong to women. In fact, only 22% of the overall IT workforce is female, according the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
Unfortunate as they are, these numbers aren’t surprising when you consider that fewer women are pursuing STEM-related degrees. The National Science Foundation reports that, in 2012, fewer than 18% of undergraduate computing degrees were awarded to women, down from 37% in 1985. And a study by Women in Technology International reveals that, while 56% of professional positions in the U.S are held by women, they hold only 25% of IT jobs.
The numbers get even more worrisome. Only 11% of tech company executives are women; 5% of tech start-ups are owned by women; 56% of women who enter the field of technology leave for other careers. Part of the problem is that women earn significantly less than men for the same work. In computer programming, they earn 5% less; as software engineers, they earn 9% less; and women who are computer and information system managers are 18% behind their male counterparts.
A good deal of the current literature on the subject provides ample reasons why organizations and the nation would benefit by including the female perspective in the policy-making and strategy-developing ranks of the technology sector.
Studies show that women on tech teams boost problem-solving and creativity; teams with at least one female outperform all-male groups in collective intelligence tests; and ROI is 34% higher for tech companies with women in management. So, why isn’t there a more welcoming and supportive environment for women in technology?
Stereotypes of women as being less qualified than men for leadership positions, in spite of research and historical examples to the contrary, still exist to an alarming extent among boards, investors and others with great influence over the choice of organizational leaders. But, when women exhibit leadership characteristics desired in men – hard-driving, can-do attitude and other “culturally masculine” qualities – they are often viewed as aggressive or “cold-hearted” and unlikely to be a good fit.
Women are riding a Catch-22 merry-go-round. One of the recognized keys to a leadership role is support and sponsorship. Men have learned how to identify, and even position, future male leaders and help them join their ranks. Since there are far fewer women at that level, there are fewer role models and the numbers are even lower when seeking women with the time or inclination to assist another women. This is, unfortunately, even more pronounced within the tech sector.
So, women are left with male role models and often conform to those behaviors, and by doing so they give up the very things that make them unique and provide their organizations with a perspective not offered by their male colleagues. That perspective is based on a set of experiences different from men’s. Such a perspective can broaden and deepen an organization’s insight, making it more effective and agile; keys to successfully meeting future business challenges.
The tech world will only continue to grow – critical for the nation’s international trade and security – and successfully face emerging global competitive challenges by utilizing all the talent available. That includes recognizing and supporting women for leadership roles.
Women who aspire to those roles also have work to do. They must be ready to assume and succeed in those positions by preparing academically; identifying forward-thinking organizations for employment; and seeking supportive sponsors, women who have achieved success as organizational leaders.
Organizations that will succeed will be those that recognize and encourage the unique point of view women offer, and create a welcoming and supportive environment for women and men alike. Until that happens, it will be hard for women in technology (or anywhere else) to move into the leadership positions for which they are qualified and which they have earned.
Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, made news in 2015 but it wasn’t to announce a technology breakthrough. Rather it was because of a statement on the subject of women and pay raises. Essentially, his message was: don’t ask, trust that the system will give you the appropriate raise. “That’s good karma,” he told an audience of women at a conference.
He immediately reversed himself publicly and sent a clarifying e-mail to Microsoft employees. But, to me, that change of direction was more guidance from his communications advisers than an adjustment to Nadella’s CEO compass.
I’m not picking on Mr. Nadella but he is a high-profile CEO whose mindset, statistics show, is mirrored by most American C-suite executives…the majority of them male who may not see the three areas where the gender gap manifests itself most:
Because they earn almost 60% of undergraduate degrees and 60% of all master’s degrees, 47% of all law degrees and over 44% of master’s degrees in business and management, women are well prepared to assume leadership positions. They are 47% of the U.S. labor force, and 59% of the college-educated, entry-level workforce.
But here are other, less attractive, numbers for your consideration: Women control more than 80% of U.S. consumer spending yet are only 14.6% of executive officers, 8.1% of top earners, and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs. They hold just 16.9% of Fortune 500 board seats.
At about the same time that Nadella was in the media spotlight, tucked away in the back of the business section was the story of another major corporate CEO moving his organization in a different, and to my mind, more progressive direction.
Glenn Murphy, who stepped down as GAP’s CEO in 2015 next, is credited with reversing the company’s tanking fortunes since taking the top spot in 2007. His highly visible and successful moves include redesigning its stores, buying new brands and enhancing GAP’s online and international presence. But his most lasting contribution may be his actions promoting equal pay practices and increasing the percentage of women in leadership roles. Currently 60% of GAP’s director-level and half of its vice presidents are women.
Is there a correlation between GAP’s recognition that women can offer a unique perspective to the strategy-developing, policy-setting process and bottom line success? I believe there is.
So, why aren’t there more women in leadership positions?
One explanation is sex discrimination, which certainly exists. But another more nuanced explanation is that the current male-driven leadership ranks don’t recognize the alternate views women offer as a positive contribution to organizational success. And, even when they do, it’s a rare organization that takes the time and makes the effort to identify and mentor future women leaders and incorporate their unique views into business planning.
The median age of an S&P chief executive is 55, while the average age of a director is 62. And, it is a male-dominated universe. The very women’s values and perspectives that GAP has so successfully tapped into are not generally understood or accepted by this male-dominated corporate culture. So, women who succeed in that culture must adapt to it. They recognize the need to think and act more like men to rise to the top.
But, women influence or directly make the majority of household purchases. They have very specific buying patterns and preferences. So having both women and men in decision-making roles gives organizations greater marketplace insights needed to increase sales and drive growth.
I suggest the key to greater gender balance in the workforce is greater enlightenment by the current male-led C-suite population. At a time when income inequality and women in leadership – including the prospect of a woman in the Oval Office – are getting heavy media coverage can growth-oriented, success-driven organizations afford to turn blind eyes to these issues?
Embracing an inclusive corporate culture, realigning job descriptions and incentive plans to encourage recognition of women’s contributions and rewarding team-building that includes women’s input are necessary steps along the road to enhancing gender balance and achieving greater organizational success.
Since moving forward with its progressive actions, GAP has seen a 24% increase in job applications and, over the past five years, almost a $2B jump in revenues.
Greater gender balance isn’t only good practice, it’s good business.
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