Women and Business, 2013 – The Uncracked Glass Ceiling

3941886327_d3318bc05c_mWe recently read an article in Harvard Business Review called Six Paradoxes Women Leaders Face in 2013. The article came on the heels of a conversation I had with some of my friends about the continuing lack of women in the tech world, which in turn was inspired by this article from The Atlantic.

To say that the news from the Harvard Business Review post is depressing is an understatement. Here are a few key pointers.

• On average, the article reports, women earn 23% less than men. The authors, Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt, note that some of this can be attributed to the fact that women dominate jobs that tend to be at lower income levels, like teachers. However, they counter that age-old argument by noting, “An analysis of full-time workers 10 years out of college, for instance, found a 12 percent difference in earnings that was entirely unexplained by choice of profession.”

• The authors say, “Women must project gravitas in order to advance at work, yet they also need to retain their “feminine mystique” in order to be liked.” Really? Feminine mystique? Try working that into a resúmé.

• “Only four percent of the CEOs in Fortune’s top 1,000 companies are female and less than 20 percent of Congress is female.” The authors suggest several reasons for this, among them the famous “Women aren’t aggressive enough to ask for promotions” bit.

• “A 2012 analysis by Dow Jones VentureSource shows that women launch nearly half of all startups and the most successful startups have more women in senior positions than unsuccessful ones. Yet, despite these findings, less than seven percent of executives at the 20,000+ companies in the Dow Jones study were women.”

As a woman in business, there is a lot that I could say about all of these points. However, my primary, nagging question is simply, “Why are we still having these same tired conversations?” Why is it that women are dominant in careers that traditionally pay less? Why aren’t men increasing their numbers in roles like teaching? Why is it that women need to maintain a “feminine mystique” and what does that even mean? Why is the inequality present in the business world so often filtered down to the fact that “Women want to spend more time at home with the kids”? Don’t men want to spend time with the kids? Have we still not moved to a point in society where men can be interested, openly, in their kids’ lives? I certainly think so.

The article that inspired this post seems to indicate that the glass ceiling is still hovering above us all, unscathed and uncracked despite efforts to make it crash down. It is our society’s focus that needs to shift as a whole before women in business will be able to travel a more easy path. When we can move past a woman’s choice to wear a power suit with pearls, we’ll know we’re moving in the right direction.

Power and Femininity

What I found most disturbing about this article (and surprising given that it was written by women) was the fact that power and femininity were placed as contrasting elements of a female business leader’s life. You need to have “gravitas” and still be “feminine.” Why are these traits necessarily mutually exclusive? My friend Lisa Petrilli, who has established herself as a powerful coach and mentor for business leaders and who is working on a project to help women find their power, wrote a post recently about women needing to find power in their femininity. Whether men consign you to a fate of “being shrill,” there are endless ways to remain true to yourself while also demonstrating power, credibility, and effectiveness. Women, it seems, need to embrace this before anything else can fall into place.

What is your take on the position of women in the business world as we begin 2013? How do you explain the statistics the HBR authors pulled together? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thevalueweb/3941886327/ via Creative Commons


11 comments on “Women and Business, 2013 – The Uncracked Glass Ceiling

  1. Thanks for your middle graph. As I was reading, I was getting bored with the same old mundane data about we women in business. Is there nothing else to say? Like how Margaret Thatcher and Andrea Merkel and Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice are upstanding women in the very public eye running COUNTRIES for gosh sakes.

    We women in business have to just ignore the data and make a boatload of dough by our own chutzpah. #ThatIsAll.

    • Yeah, but look how women like Hillary get treated. There’s what she does and she as to fight ten times harder to get respect and recognition for what she does.

      Sorry you find the topic tired – I do to because I wish things were different, but I think it’s important to point out they are not.

  2. I’m adding feminine mystique to my LinkedIn profile. Surely that will get us hired! A few days ago, a client asked me how many trips I made last year. When I told him how many, he said, “Well, you can do it. You don’t have a family.” And I suppose that’s the real reason for all of this. Women are expected to stay home with young families…or at least work less hours to be home to make dinner and do laundry and attend activities. Sure, there are some men who do that, but women are hardwired to be the nurturers and men are hardwired to bring home the bacon. It’s not an excuse, but I’d venture to guess that’s really why we continue to have this conversation in an effort to try to figure it all out.

    • I’d tend to agree, but I think men are getting tired of that too. I know a lot of men who prefer to stay home with the kids, and they don’t really need (and actually dislike) getting accolades for taking care of their children. I think eventually we will see a counter-revolution. Eventually…

    • Women being maternal or nurturing isn’t necessarily instinct. It is truly a myth. One has to observe and be taught this in order to express that type of behavior. I don’t think either sex is necessarily “hardwired” for any one thing. It all depends on whether one decides to accept the norm or not. I know I don’t. I am not asserting that if one does exhibit maternal or nurturing behaviour that anything is wrong with that.

  3. On the flip side, as I start a new venture out in the business world next week, my hubby will be taking on the role of kid-runner and supper maker until I get home from my new commute (about 15 minutes longer than his).

    No one is questioning his lack of male-ness, but there are some people who have questioned why he hasn’t moved faster (or higher) up the corporate ladder. It was a conscious decision he made when our first son was born; after several reviews and meetings with senior leadership, the one common regret they all seemed to have was not spending enough time at home with the family. He said he doesn’t want that to be his regret, so he is purposely staying in a role where he can retain some work flexibility (whereas executives are expected to work more and longer hours).

    • Right – I think men are placed under just as much societal pressure as women are. “Why are you not being more aggressive? Gah, you’re such a chick.” It works both ways. Many people in our society are pushing against the boundaries of the box that we’ve been in since, oh, the beginning of time. But the folks that like the box seem somehow to be stronger. Maybe because it’s a “known vs. unknown” scenario.

  4. My mother told me: “It will be different for you.” She wasn’t intentionally lying..she was just optimistic. I tell my daughters: “I wish it could be different for you.” But I’m too much of a cynic to believe anything will change my lifetime or theirs.

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