The last time Diane Baker counted, seven women were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and fewer than 15 women were CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies. Only three CEOs were black. However, women have improved their stature in the boardroom. In 2002, they held 12.4% of Fortune 500 board seats, up from 11.7% in 2000.
“In corporate America, women are still not well represented at the top,” said Baker, associate professor of management at Millsaps College in Jackson. “It is true that fewer women than men choose to pursue top jobs, and women are less likely to choose the kind of jobs that lead to top positions. On the other hand, women who would like higher-level jobs do face important barriers. I assure you that there are many women right now who are bright, talented and clearly capable of leadership positions. One of the key barriers for women is that they are less likely than men to have access to influential mentors and social networks. Relationships, as opposed to competence, often dictate who is selected for high-level positions.”
Barbara Gandy, Ph.D., who was promoted from senior workforce training manager to director of recruitment and orientation at Pearl River Community College last August, said she has been “shut out of jobs not because of male or female-dominated situations but because of companies or industries or community colleges protecting their own people and hiring from within.”
“And you ought to protect your assets,” she said. “If you’ve got good workers, they should be the ones promoted first.”
Some professions remain dominated by a particular gender, primarily because of the nature or stereotype of the industry, said Gandy.
“Look at the trucking industry,” said Gandy, an investor in a transport company. “That industry remains male-dominated, including positions held by brokers and production workers. But women have made tremendous advances in the education profession. Women have dominated K-12 and especially K-6 for years. You don`t associate a male as a kindergarten instructor. Most males came in as coaches and driver`s ed instructors and had to teach something else on the side. Higher education, at one time, especially administrative positions, were male-dominated, but no more. It`s about even, except when you look at the presidents of the community colleges, who are mostly male. When I went back to work on my doctorate, there were as many or more women getting their doctorate as men. But when my mother got her doctorate in the early 1970s, it was probably a 2 to 1 ratio with men over women.”
However, the gender and racial gap persists when comparing salaries. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, second quarter 2003 median salary and wage earnings, white men earned $712, while white women earned $561, or 21% less. Black men earned $540 and black women earned $489, said Baker.
In a speech Baker recently gave on the issue of women in the workplace, she illustrated several theories why women are underrepresented at the top level.
The pipeline theory
It takes longer for women to work their way through the upper ranks of management, and it takes time for the culture of a society to change.
“To me, this argument seems a little weak,” said Baker. “The numbers of women in officer jobs are still quite small, considering that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to discriminate against women, passed 40 years ago. For example, women who were 10 at the time of the CRA are now 50, a prime age for corporate leadership.”
Women choose lower status jobs
Even though the gap in business is narrowing significantly, men continue to be more likely to major in business and engineering. Secretaries and cashiers remain the occupations in which most women are employed. More women work in education and healthcare professions. And women tend to hold staff jobs, such as human resources and public relations. They usually climb the ranks via operations positions, after gleaning sufficient knowledge about the company`s products, production and finances. “Women are less likely to want to aspire to the top ranks,” said Baker. “Survey findings often indicate that more men than women want top positions.”
The commitment issue
Women are less committed to an organization because of their overriding commitment to family. As a result, they may leave the organization briefly to care for children, are more likely to work part-time, have more absences because of family responsibilities, and their turnover rate tends to be higher.
“Interestingly, these theories are based on some assumptions that are so ingrained in our culture that we do not recognize them,” said Baker. “One assumption is that our current value system is appropriate. Another assumption is that we have in place the ‘right’ way to structure and run an organization. Is there hope for women who want to move up? Yes.”
Women are more comfortable with creating a collaborative environment rather than a command-and-control environment, which influential people continue to believe is the best style of management at the top, said Baker.
“However, there is growing acceptance of collaboration and participative styles of management in the workforce,” she said. “Daniel Goleman studied the leadership styles of many top managers across the country in his Harvard Business Review article, ‘What Makes a Leader.’ He suggests that good leaders are smart and have good technical skills – that is, they know their products, they know their industry, they understand financial and strategic issues. But he claims that these are entry-level skills for leaders. The most important skill is emotional intelligence. Brains and technical competence are not enough; a leader also must be self-aware, motivated, empathetic, able to redirect disruptive impulses and moods, and proficient at developing and managing relationships.”
In the traditional command-and-control leadership style, emotional intelligence is underrated, said Baker.
“The good news is that the skills associated with emotional intelligence is increasingly being upheld as important,” she said. “This is a good sign for women who want to move up.”
Women are making great strides in the self-employment field. In 2002, Mississippi ranked 36th in the number of women-owned businesses in the nation, 36th in employment, and 34th in sales. Nearly 44,000 Mississippi businesses were owned by women, accounting for nearly one-quarter of all privately held firms in the state. Women-owned firms employed more than 67,000 people and generated nearly $8.8 billion in sales.
“Starting one`s own business is certainly the best path women have to make it to the top,” said Baker.
Between 1997 and 2002, the number of women-owned firms in Mississippi increased by 15%, employment grew by 25%, and sales increased by 47%, according to the Center for Women`s Business Research.
“Being a female-owned franchise business in Mississippi is a good thing,” said Jonni R. Webb, owner of Coffee News of Central Mississippi. “I have not run into any resistance from the ‘good ol’ boy’ network. Actually, it is generally a non-issue. I think one of the things that my clients like is working with the owner versus whether I am male or female. They appreciate my experience and my willingness to help them grow their business.
“I work with just as many male-owned small businesses as female-owned. I do a lot of networking out in the community and find myself, often, the only female in the company of a group of men. In my opinion, this is a great opportunity to set myself apart from the rest. I see myself on the same playing field as these men and, I think, because of my attitude about it, they feel I belong on that field. The opportunities for women in today`s business world are the best they’ve ever been.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.