Advancing Women to Leadership: What’s Gender Got to Do with It? Robin J. Ely Harvard Business School Committee on the Concerns of Women June 2, 2006 The Status of Women in Corporate America The Good News: • Women comprise 50% of managerial and specialized professional positions. • 85.8% of Fortune 500 companies have at least one woman corporate officer. • 12% have women filling 1/4 or more of their corporate officer positions, a 100% increase since 1995. Source: Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners in the Fortune 500, 2002 The Status of Women in Corporate America The Bad News: • In Fortune 500 companies, women comprise: • 15.7 % of corporate officers • Only 9.9% of line officer positions • 13.6 % of corporate directors • 7.9% of the highest titles • 5.2% of top earners • Women of color fare worse: • 2% of board seats in Fortune 1000 • 1.6% of corporate officers in Fortune 500 Source: Catalyst Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners in the Fortune 500, 2002 Are Skills the Problem? • 2000 Study - 170+ senior leaders - Women rated higher on operating with energy and intensity, setting high performance expectations, meeting commitments, and aggressively pursuing goals and pushing for results. • 1996 Study - 915 executives - Women outperformed men in 25 out of 31 specific leadership skills. - Women rated higher in, e.g., maintaining high productivity, generating high quality work, meeting deadlines and commitments, driving for results, and generating new ideas. • 1993 Study - 5300 leaders - Women rated higher in leadership practices of “encouraging the heart” and “modeling the way.” No, skills don’t seem to be the problem. A Conundrum • Women are seen as successful in employing a broad range of specific leadership skills and achieving positive results. • Yet they are not being promoted into top leadership positions. What explains women’s lack of advancement? Barriers to Women’s Advancement What women executives say: 25% •68% 52% •47% 49% •41% Female Executives Women Executives 35% •33% CEOs CEOs 15% •18% 18% •12% Lack of GM/line Exclusion Stereotyping & preconceptions experience from informal of women’s roles and networks abilities Source: Catalyst, Women in Corporate Leadership, 2003 Barriers to Women’s Advancement What CEOs say: •68% •47% •37% Executives •29% Female CEOs Lack of GM/line Failure of senior leadership experience to assume accountability Source: Catalyst, Women in Corporate Leadership, 2003 Barriers to Women’s Advancement What the media say: • Successful, high potential, women are “opting out.” • They opt out because they want to be at home devoting themselves fully to parenting: • “They leave more easily and find other parts of life more fulfilling.” • “They don’t want to do what it takes to get [to the top].” –Belkin, NYT, 2003 Barriers to Women’s Advancement What the research shows: • Of 570 business women surveyed, 72% reported that it was important for them to be influential leaders; 47% aspired to be in the top leadership positions of their organizations. • Men are rated higher on leadership “potential.” • In top accounting firm, men and women reported 70% probability of accepting leadership role if offered; 47% of women and 68% of men offered a leadership role. Barriers to Women’s Advancement What the research shows: • Re women entering elite colleges and universities in 1976: • 58% never out of the job market for > 6 mos. • Spent total of 1.6 years out of the labor force. • Only 7% spent more than half of their time out of labor force. • 87% were married; 69% had at least one child; total of 2.1 yrs not employed. • 50% with children never had non-employment lasting > 6 mos. • Stuck with their specialties to same degree as men. • Little has changed re educated women in their 30s today: • 80% are employed in full-time work (75% in late 30s married). • Having babies later. • BUT, they still earn less and work more around the house! Barriers to Women’s Advancement What the research shows: • Organizations are gendered; they reflect men’s values and life situations. • Gender inequities are subtle and pervasive, embedded in work norms and practices that appear gender-neutral on the surface, but affect men and women differently. • Result is many micro-inequities that, when aggregated, can inhibit women’s potential to claim leadership roles. Case Example The Gender Equity Problem • By early 1980s, 50% of new hires were women, proportion of women partners about 10%. • By early 1990s, proportion of women partners still about 10%. The Business Problem • Diluting the quality of the partnership. • Gender gap in turnover. Women @ 26%; men @ 15%. • Cost of turnover/employee: 150% of annual compensation. Case Example (continued) Belief • Women leave to raise their families. Reality • Over 70% of the women who left were still employed full time one year later. • Another 20% were working part time at other firms. • Fewer than 10% were at home with small children; they intended to return to work in near future. • Work environment was male-dominated. • Limited opportunities for career advancement. • Work/life balance difficult to establish. Case Example (continued) Gendered evaluation processes • Re her: “She’s not polished. Her ___ skills aren’t strong enough.” • Re him: “I looked like that 5 years ago, and I grew into it; he’ll grow into it. He has tremendous potential.” Notice it; challenge it; change it. Case Example (continued) • No nepotism rule. No supervision rule. • Never say “no.” Legitimize challenging the value of developmental assignments. Case Example (continued) Time spent at work = commitment. • Face time required of everyone. Just get the job done; supports. Gendered client assignment process. • Women assigned to “pink collar” areas. • Men assigned to high potential areas. Annual assignment reviews to ensure equity among high performers. Case Example (continued) Outcomes • Moved from 8% women in partnership to 21%. • Turnover among women dropped from 26% to 15%. • Increased freedom of expression, creativity. • Offered better people, better service to clients. • Attracted new clients. • Ranked 8th on Fortune’ list of The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. • Constituency of high potential women equipped with knowledge and skills to push for constructive incremental change. Making Change Diagnosis: Make visible norms and practices contributing to subtle gender bias; investigate costs to women and to effectiveness. • How do people accomplish their work? • Who succeeds and who doesn’t? • What work is valued, rewarded; what work is invisible? • What are norms about time? • How is competence defined? Making Change (continued) Change: Institute policy and operational changes, including “small wins.” • Undertake incremental changes in work practices and behaviors that interrupt established norms and practices. Talk, talk, talk: Use small wins as occasions to challenge old stories and create new ones. Making Change (continued) Leadership, Leadership, Leadership: • Communicate your vision. • Model behaviors. • Share success stories. • Make the business case. • Debunk myths. • Create accountability and measurement systems. • Use diagnosis as opportunity to learn. Conclusions • Many assumptions about women and leadership are not based in reality. • Many work practices and cultural norms that appear gender-neutral actually disadvantage women and reduce effectiveness. • Surfacing assumptions and differential impact of norms and practices creates opportunities for change that benefit women, men, and the organization. Final Reflections Metaphor for 21st Century Organizations • It is not simply a “glass ceiling” that is holding women back, but the whole structure of organizations: the foundations, the beams, the walls and the very air. It is all around us in our assumptions and norms about work, leadership, and how we practice it. • This approach asks leaders to be thoughtful architects not just to dismantle the glass ceiling, but to reconstruct organizations, beam by beam and room by room, with work practices and norms that are more effective for our organizations and more equitable for women as well as men. Meyerson and Feltcher, Harvard Business Review, 2000
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