(Jun. 24, 2019) — If you ask men in business today what they think of the opportunities available to women, some will recognize the continued existence of the career glass ceiling but many will simply shrug and say, “You have your rights now.” There’s a widespread assumption that laws forbidding overt discrimination and encouraging equal pay mean that women have the same prospects as men, with any failure to keep up being the fault of personal failings. Why, then, do we still find only 24 women working as CEOs in Fortune 500 companies? Why do they earn less money than their male counterparts and why do their numbers seem to be declining? Most importantly, what can be done to remedy the situation?
Getting the right start
There are two ways to get a good corporate job: one is to work one’s way up internally from the bottom (or from a graduate entry-level position) and the other is to start one’s own business and then transfer across on the basis of the reputation one has built. Women still struggle to compete in job interviews with men who have equivalent qualifications, and they struggle to obtain funding for their start-ups as easily as men do. Others can help by donating to organizations that support them, investing in female-run businesses or encouraging the influential men they know to be more aware of their own biases.
Getting the right support
Once they’re established in corporate positions, women struggle to get the same level of support and mentoring that is available to men. This may simply be an accident of the fact that more men are in senior positions to begin with and people tend to give the most help to those they identify with. Lady Barbara Judge, whose career has included a regional executive directorship at Samuel Montagu & Co. and who has served on the Securities and Exchange Commission, has often spoken of what she owes to her mother’s support. She has gone on to mentor other women and to emphasize the importance of women helping each other.
Balancing domestic responsibilities
Despite the gains that women have made in the workplace, they are still expected to take on the majority of childcare tasks as well, and they provide around two-thirds of unpaid care for elderly and disabled people. Some women who would like to be mothers feel it necessary to give up on that in order to prioritize their careers; those who do not are often mocked for wanting to ‘have it all’, something that never seems to be said about ambitious men who are also fathers. Rather than seeing women with care responsibilities as less committed, employers need to help them by introducing flexible working and recognize that this can make all their employees more productive.
Because they are seen as less committed and because, thanks to social exclusion, they are sometimes not seen at all, women often struggle to get promoted as often or as early in their careers as men. Those responsible for promotions may not even realize that this is a problem but looking at big data from across the organization can help them to identify patterns of discrimination and take appropriate action. As in recruitment interviews, women need to be encouraged to assert themselves more in interviews for promotion, and bosses need the training to teach them that a woman asserting herself as would a man is not behaving inappropriately.
Dealing with harassment
Sadly, harassment is still a big problem for women in the workplace. This doesn’t just mean harassment of a sexual nature – although studies show that half of women experience this at least once – but it also means bullying, which women are more vulnerable to because many men still object to their presence in the workplace or expect to be able to talk down to them and give them menial tasks to do. Some women feel unable to remain in their jobs because of it while others feel that complaining damages their standing in the eyes of their superiors and so hinders their own careers. Stronger policies on harassment are needed to ensure that female talent isn’t squandered in this way.
Why would big companies make the effort to improve opportunities for women? Because it’s about more than simply doing the decent thing. When women are able to make full use of their talents and skills, everybody in the organization benefits. Helping women get to the top is about equality, about fairness, and also about giving corporations a better chance of finding the best available CEOs.
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.