I am seeing a rash of titles that sound like predictions that women will soon take over the business world. I don’t even want women to take over; I just want women proportionally represented at the upper levels of business. But the perspective that women are about to dominate men in business is inconsistent with what I know:
Although women are nearly 47% of the total Fortune 500 workforce, according to Catalyst, women represent only 14.1% of executive officers and 7.5% of the most highly compensated.
- Recently, we celebrated (my tongue is in my cheek) that 20 women (4%) are CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. Although that percentage had ticked up from 3.4% in the last several months, it ticked back down to 3.8% in August.
- Last December, Catalyst reported that women are “no further along the corporate ladder than they were six years ago.”
- The wage gap continues to exist with women earning somewhere between 77 and 91 cents for every dollar earned by men.
What do we make, then, of a recent WSJ blog titled “Women Taking Charge”? The title claims much more than the text, which acknowledges that women remain a minority “in board rooms and the C-suite,” but celebrates that “women have ticked past a mere token presence and advanced into top roles across many industries and nations.” Ticking past token representation is hardly “taking charge.”
Another headline that caught my attention is “Women set to take over the global workforce in three years” in “Women’s Agenda.” This title, too, claims too much. The article reviews a study by Regus, “Meeting the Future of Work,” which focused on why employers need to create flexible ways of working. It does not back up the title.
Hannah Rosin’s article, “The End of Men,” published in the Atlantic in 2010, is about to come out as a book. Rosin’s title also overstates the case she makes. She analyzes rapid and significant shifts in gender roles and the progress of women in the workplace. As intelligence, social intelligence and communication skills have become more important in business than brawn and stamina, women have fared well. Rosin focuses on changes in the working class and middle management and acknowledges that women stall in the upper levels of the business world. Her title is more about sympathy for the prospects of men in marrying those upwardly mobile women than a prediction of the “end of men” as corporate leaders.
The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family by Liza Mundy traces the growth in the number of women who are primary earners. (She includes single mothers, who are among the most challenged in today’s economy.) Mundy focuses on the major shifts in relationships between the sexes. As interesting as Rosin’s and Mundy’s work on the shifts in male/female home life are, neither predicts progress for women in achieving parity at the leadership levels of business.
If we take these titles literally, we have a contradiction: Either women are stalled in reaching the top in proportional numbers and are still on the low end of the pay gap. Or women are the “richer” sex, taking over the breadwinner role. When we read more than the titles, the contradiction is solved—and both are true. Women are continuing to get and keep good jobs; more of them are earning more than their male mates–but still few are making it to the senior levels or earning as much as their male colleagues at work.
“Taking over” is not the goal. It is not the goal to “end” or diminish men in business or swap positions so men are under-represented in leadership. Business needs a balance of men and women—so it gets a balance of masculine and feminine strengths. That balance leads to higher productivity, retention and results. The goal is to have women join men, in equal ranks, in leading businesses. I hope the trends that generated these titles mean that women will again make progress in reaching that goal. The titles mislead some readers into celebrating women’s achievement of this goal–and scare those threatened by a feminine “takeover.” The truth is that we have a long way to go to achieve gender diversity at upper levels of business.
What connections do you make between (a) the increase in the number of women earning more than their mates and (b) the prospects for women to reach the upper ranks of business in greater numbers?