Almost a few years ago now, I read Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I remember being impressed by their nobility and thinking about ways that I could personally become a better advocate for women around the world to make the most of their opportunities.
And then I realized that I had invested in myself and my education by making huge personal risks and taking out really expensive student loans that it seems I will be paying off until I retire (if I ever retire).
I went to Emma Willard, an all-girls high school, then a Seven Sisters college, Vassar, with the help and prodding of a few powerful mentors. Learning in realms shaped by the idea that women had powerful voices and were significant, not just in relation to men, but all by themselves, should not have been a novel concept to me as a young woman, but it was.
That was key to framing the way I thought about business and money. Learning to speak up, to be assertive about my goals, and to forge ahead, disregarding perceptions that I was a bitch, a mean girl, or whatever else because I had ambition and talent—all of that came from learning in the context of women-dominated spaces.
On International Women’s Day in March, Think Progress posted a blog about “Women’s Impact on the Economy, By the Numbers.” It both irritated and fascinated me, as numbers are wont to do.
It told the story of 66 million American women in the current workforce, earning 77 cents to every dollar made by a man. 60 percent of women are the primary or co-breadwinner in their households. Women are fifty percent of the college-educated population. In other words, even if the amount of money we make doesn’t reflect it, like women around the world, we hold up half the sky.
Most people operate from the perspective that it’s a bad thing that women aren’t more like men. Should we be trying for the jobs that men want? Do we need to be better at business the way its structured, or does business need to be better at courting us for our skills? These numbers always prompt those questions for me.
It’s great that we know more about the business lives of women and celebrate them for the progress they’ve made. But what is it about corporate culture that keeps it unfriendly to women? And why haven’t women achieved more in business? There are 12 Fortune 500 CEOs. That’s 12 who weren’t there three decades ago, but that’s still a pretty low number. In the words of Sue Shellenbarger in a special “Women in the Economy: An Executive Task Force” report published in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago, “You would think the problem would be solved by now…So why are we still talking about this?”
My guess jibes with data that the Wall Street Journal published.
Entry-level and low-level positions are teeming with women in businesses, and then they start “bleeding female talent,” according to Shellenbarger. Here’s a bit more:
Women land 53% of entry-level jobs and make it to “the belly of the pipeline” in large numbers, McKinsey found. But then, female presence falls off a cliff, to 35% at the director level, 24% among senior vice presidents and 19% in the C-suite. Google Inc. has trouble advancing women engineers, Laszlo Bock, senior vice president, people operations, said at the Journal conference. All employees are encouraged to nominate themselves for promotions, he says. Men jump at the chance, often before they are ready, and are often turned down. But women must be prodded: “For God’s sake, nominate yourself for promotions. You’re holding yourself back,” Mr. Bock says he tells female employees. Women who finally step up usually get the nod: “By the time a woman says she is ready, she was probably ready a year ago.”
Generally, it seems, women in business don’t have advocates. More than that, they have second-shift work as caregivers at home and they don’t want high-stress positions. Which is why they don’t make huge power plays to become managers or executives, which are higher paying jobs. I’d also like to think that more women are realizing that “life/work balance” might be a goal that no one every really achieves, so they are increasingly building businesses that work for them instead of taking staff jobs in “the pink ghetto.” But I’m not sure that’s the case. Do you think that women’s refusal to go for higher visibility positions in corporate spaces is part of what keeps American women in general from achieving equal pay? Have you thought about what a good solution might be?