by Denise Berger
In the “Sexism” article published in April 2008, Conde Nast Portfolio  cites that advancement among women to gain parity with men in salaries, promotion to top-level jobs and board room involvement has not just stagnated but it is slipping! Catalyst research tells us that only 2.6% of Fortune 500 companies CEOs are female; only 6.7% of Fortune 500s top-earners are women; and 14.8% of Fortune 500 board seats are occupied by women. Catalyst also calculates that it will take 73 years for women to achieve board room parity alone. Seventy-three years - that brings us to the year 2081. To put it in perspective: current elementary school kids will have retired by that time! And yet, the pipeline is there: 50.6% of management and professional positions are occupied by women and more than 50% of college graduates worldwide are female.
On a similar point, why is it that women are still paid about $.74 to a man’s $1.00 in the USA? Isn’t this subject alone enough to raise your blood pressure? (Add it to the list of stressors for women!) The Wall Street Journal recently cited the following statistics: "Women, overall, are substantially lagging behind men in pay. Full-time female employees earned 77% of all men's median wages. Breaking it down in terms of race - Asian-American women earned 78% of the median annual pay of white men; white women earned 73%; black women, 63%; and Hispanic women, 52%." The difference in pay is still apparent even with 20-somethings earning 20-25% less than men at the same educational level.
A surprising common misperception causing this devolution on the path to parity is that women have, in fact, "arrived" and therefore there are no more barriers to success; we are only limited by our own individual talents and limitations we impose on ourselves, just the same as any man. However, the playing field is not level, for a number of reasons: childcare and family caregiver notwithstanding, bias and discrimination; harmless, but nevertheless influential, informal male social networking; and, of course, inherent biological differences between the sexes.
Generally speaking, women inherently seek equality and a sense of community, and to be identified through similarities. As girls, we choose a set of rules and play by them. Conversely, it is common for men to compete to be the best, to win, to get the perks, to be on a higher footing, and to dominate. As boys, each change the rules as the game is played, trying to one-up the other. In the book, Women Don't Ask , Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever point to research to substantiate why negotiations are more complex for women and, by association, why there is a real disparity in pay in the workforce. "A 'locus of control' scale measures the extent to which individuals believe that their behavior influences their circumstances." The lower a person scores, the more they believe that they have influence over circumstances; the higher the score, the less they believe in their influence over events. In a study conducted in over 14 countries, representing five continents, women yielded higher “locus of control” scores than men, meaning that women - more so than men - believe that "life happens to them.” This is further substantiated in the book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office  by Lois Frankel, which highlights that women wait to be recognized.
The truth is that the days of “waging corporate war” from lofty board rooms are archaic; this current era is about raising emotional intelligence to create better corporate governance and results. Says Chris Clarke in The XX Factor in the Boardroom: Why Women Make Better Directors, key characteristics among modern day leaders, which yield the results and enhance performance, are “self-awareness, understanding the needs of others, and care for the team”. While men can exhibit these traits, by and large, women are had-wired, having been trained for decades, to: read people, manage aggression, soothe, promote teamwork, enhance communications, and balance short-term objectives with long term societal needs. So, let's give women more opportunity to compete, and for goodness sakes, pay us what you would if you put a man in that position. From there, women: play to win, step up and ask for what you think you deserve, and don’t be bashful. Showcase our best and dare we say-put the spotlight on our strengths that create some inequality in our favor. Shape the workplace of tomorrow and let's beat the 73-year clock!
Pay parity is a very serious matter for women in the workforce globally. We want to hear your ideas on how we can progress faster on this path and what the cost to business will be if we don’t.