I entered the professional world (law) in the mid-1970’s. I joined the first large wave of women entering traditionally male professions. Obviously, at that time, women weren’t well represented at the upper ranks of law firms (senior partners and managing attorneys). And they weren’t at the upper ranks of the corporate hierarchy when I began my climb as a business executive a decade later. It would take time. It was just a “matter of time.” In time, we thought and were told, women would lead firms and businesses right alongside men.
In four decades, there is progress. But it’s disappointing in comparison with our hopes. Catalyst’s most recent report (Aug. 2017) shows that, though women are over 44% of the S&P 500 workforce, they are just over 5% of CEO’s, under 10% of top earners and under 20% of board members.
Susan Chira took note of this in her NYT article last month – “Why Women Aren’t CEO’s, According to Women Who Almost Were.” Why? She concludes that it was not “just a matter of time.” Then why? Chira counts the ways: We women aren’t socialized to be competitive or to fight for ourselves, are lonely at the top, are criticized if we take center stage, and are less comfortable with self-promotion. Assertive women threaten some men. Women get less critical feedback (their bosses fear an emotional reaction) and are less likely to (get to) hang out with those with the power to promote them.
All these are faces of the “deeply rooted barriers” in Chira’s sub-title. The barriers share the same root cause – unconscious gender bias. Unconscious bias may be deeply rooted, subtle and co-existing with authentic beliefs in diversity and inclusion.
It was not just a “matter of time.” But it sure is time – to solve this. (Note a growing group called It’s Time Network.)
Chira focuses on two things to be unhappy about –progress is slow and unconscious bias is real. Here’s a third. Unconscious bias is harder to uproot than conscious discrimination. We knew this, but a 2016 article in HBR (“Why Subtle Bias Is So Often Worse than Blatant Discrimination”) confirms it. And how about a fourth? Programs designed to uproot unconscious bias often fail or even backfire (see another HBR article.) The challenge is to design diversity and inclusion programs that really work. I’m working on it! It’s time!