Women remain at a disadvantage in the workplace because
success requires winning in a world we did not build on
terms we did not set. Sylvia An Hewlett, head of the Center
for Work-Life Policy summed it up in a recent article in
Street Journal (subscription required): "We've
been trying to fix women so they fit into the lockstep male
career model, instead of changing the model."
In 1950 only one-third of American women of working age
had a paid job and constituted one-third of the workforce.
Women have been severely underrepresented in the building
of enterprise in America, and we remain underrepresented
in leadership -- women account for 15 percent of directors
on corporate boards in the U.S.
Lack of representation on the "inside track"
makes removing the disadvantage all the more challenging.
Not only are women not present numerically, our behaviors
and approaches are missing. Women are perceived to be less
aggressive, less strategic in our thinking and risk averse.
And yet, a study by Catalyst,
a research group in New York, found that American companies
with more women in senior management jobs earned a higher
return on equity than those with fewer women at the top.
Some say that's because mixed teams of men and women solve
There are also studies
that suggest that women are often better than men at building
teams and communicating. I have found women to be more adept
and effective at managing multiple priorities. These strengths
are often not valued in the workplace unless they are accompanied
by the pounding of fists on tables and shouting.
The challenge of succeeding on a level playing field is
not borne by women alone, as class, race, sexual orientation
and religion create even more permutations of this predicament.
But there is a compounding and exacerbating factor specific
to women that deserves special attention; the fact that
life demands more of women than it does of men.
Nine months of pregnancy aside, both women and men play
the roles of spouse, parent, family member and employee.
But as long as society dictates that it takes more time
and effort to be a good mother than it does a good father,
a good wife than a good husband, and even a good daughter
than a good son, women will be at a disadvantage because
women cannot commit the same amount of time and effort to
work that a man can.
Today two-thirds of women work, and we constitute nearly
half of the workforce, so the numbers game is improving.
But until we all appreciate women leading as women, and
not men in skirts, the numbers will never be enough and
the workplace will remain robbed of the strengths women
bring to the table.
Ironically, until we expect more of men in the roles they
play outside of work, families will lack the male role models
needed to support children who can value both genders --
and thereby change the model.