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Advancing Women: Where We Stand Today

Posted By Robert Wray, Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Economist Janice Madden, expert on women’s issues and diversity in the workforce, took the stage with a rousing note of humor. Projecting an audience’s fear that an economist would put the crowd to sleep… she joked she didn’t have enough personality to be an accountant.

Dr. Madden began sharing her findings with a look at Percentages of Women in Top 5 Executive Positions, pointing out figures that are plateauing at around six percent. Even US Census Data shows an actual decline in women in Executive positions.

There is no clear reason as to why women have plateaued... but this is evidence of a glass ceiling. It’s even come down a bit during the last twelve years, and underrepresentation of women increases as goes up the management hierarchy. In fact, the progress made by women attaining senior management positions appears to have stalled since about 2000.

That’s the glass ceiling, now what about glass walls?

Women are in different places than men. The women are 6% in top 5 jobs of publically traded companies. What are those jobs? General Counsel, Chief Financial Officer. The underrepresented jobs are President, COO and CEO. Women executives are more likely to have professional, or nonline jobs (finance, law), than the executive line positions.

Dr. Madden explored the pay gap. Research showed that women in top executive positions earned 22% less than men, although their annual salaries were only 11% less than mens

Much of the gender gap in pay arises from women being in smaller firms and in different job titles, but there is discrimination at work. It’s not uncommon for men to dislike women or stereotype them as less qualified. In fact, when a woman becomes CEO, stocks decrease 3%, while a new male CEO leads to a decrease of only .5%.

What evidence seems to suggest is that this is a stereotypical problem. "Implicit bias” points to our unconscious way of classification and categorization, and discrimination by gender has more to do with unconscious stereotypes – which will lead us to policies that will make things change.

Dr. Madden explored some of the choices, and judgment of these choices, women make that affect their role in the executive suite:

- Women provide more house and family care than men

- Workplace hostility can be directed toward time off for parental responsibilities and flexible schedules

- The media has reported extensively, yet inaccurately, on educated women opting out of demanding jobs for more family time

There are significant ways women can improve the situation, particularly through sponsorship. In addition to giving their protégées exposure to other influential executives, they can make sure their protégées get challenging assignments, and protect those protégées from damaging contacts.

Among questions raised was the contrast of sponsorship and mentorship. Sponsorship shows itself as a one-on-one engagement, with people you often have to find for yourself. Mentorship is important as a way to gain valuable advice, but it doesn’t get you into the executive suite.

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