By Shambhavi Saxena:
When PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi was named one of the highest paid CEOs in the world, it quickly turned our attention to the thunderous successes of many women in the corporate world. Last month, three women bankers from India made it to a Fortune Magazine power list, and there was some celebration once more about how far working women had gotten. But even as more women enter the corporate workforce, these instances are only a few chinks in that big ol’ glass ceiling.
Breaking the glass ceiling has been such a major concern for our times, that it’s made its way into our pop culture with musical hits like Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” or those clever Comedy Central sketches. But what exactly has it meant for women in the corporate world?
“Women in the Workplace 2016” is a report compiled by eight authors from the McKinsey and Company consulting firm, and the non-profit organization Lean In. Surveying 34,000 employees from 132 companies in the USA, the report builds on some earlier research regarding Human Resources practices and experiences, and here’s what it found:
While men and women acquire entry-level jobs at close-ish figures – 63% and 56%, respectively – and see a more or less similar rate of increase at manager-level positions, women undergo a dramatic dip as we move up the ladder.
The report was very clear in stating that not only were there very few women in the pipeline to the C-Suite (meaning the most senior executive positions) but that they faced major pushback for trying to negotiate raises and promotions, while their male coworkers did not. In fact, women who negotiated or held their ground in the same way that men did were even called “bossy” and “intimidating.”
It confirms that it’s a male-dominated arena – of the 90% promotions from line roles to CEO, 100% were men. It also notes how there were simply more instances of men being given opportunities to participate, to give inputs, and to take on high visibility roles.
With regards to general attitudes, the report also found that employees don’t view gender diversity as a personal priority, and when it came to giving employees feedback, many managers fell prey to the stereotype that their female employees would feel bad or have an emotional breakdown.
Yet another problem area arose concerning women of colour in the workplace. While they make up 20% of the population in the USA, they’re only 3% of the C-Suite, despite having higher aspirations for top executive posts than white women do.
Clearly, there is a disparity, and the glass-ceiling is layered and overlapping. But the report also made several recommendations on how to address this. Some of the biggest ways in which we can make corporate culture more equal begin with small structural changes, and this is what companies need to do:
The reason why gender diversity matters to only 38% of senior leaders surveyed, is because its importance has not been broadly communicated. The very first step has to be the one where companies commit to realizing a gender-equal workplace. Imagine what impact that could have, even with just 132 companies that employ some 4.6 million people? That’s like a workplace with the population of Paris and Chicago combined – basically a lot of people who, by virtue of working in a gender-equal environment – will carry some of that thinking into their everyday lives.
The logical follow up to the first step would be to hold employee trainings where gender-biased language and behaviour is systematically removed. Sensitization programmes for persons of all departments in a company can foster better understanding of current roadblocks to gender equality, and also develop dialogue on how to creatively arrive at solutions for gender-based problems.
When there are more CEOs named Peter and David than there are women in the C-Suite, you have to start asking why. Only 41% of the companies surveyed in the report reveal their gender metrics, but more should. This reveals how many men and women occupy which positions, get which promotions, are hired when, where, how frequently, and at what salary. At one level, this will show companies where they’re failing. And if disclosed to all members of the company, bad or undesirable metrics will also build pressure on leaders to rectify those failings.
Once you have the gender metrics out in front of you, you can start a process that ensures level-by-level gender representation. When we demand equal pay for equal work, this holds employers accountable. When hiring, review, and promotion processes are made fair, that’s companies showing initiative. And finally, when we see an equal number of men and women getting bonuses, promotions, and high visibility projects, we’re seeing results. Companies should be holding themselves to newer and gender-equal standards, and employees should be insisting on those results as well.
Different gendered circumstances lead to different modes of working. Gender expectations for men require them to be putting in longer hours at work, and even doing more ‘demanding’ kinds of work, while gender expectations require women to balance less vigorous work with their unpaid domestic labour. Currently, two out of three companies surveyed offer flexible work programs, which can certainly help remedy the sexual division of labour, and make both the home and the workplace more gender-equal environments. However, most people don’t opt for these for fear of being penalized, stunting their own careers, or a lack of support from team members. Flexibility of work is most important for both the sexes, especially if childcare is also a significant part of their lives, and companies need to create a work culture that accommodates this too.
The recommendations from “Women in the Workplace 2016” certainly sound very reasonable and actionable, and might also be applied to contexts outside of the United States.
Women in India make up 48.5% of the population, but make up only 13.4% of people with regular salaried jobs. According to Catalyst, a data non-profit, even that tiny workforce of women earns only 56% of what their male colleagues do. And of that already small number, only 14% have made it to top executive positions. While corporate America’s challenge is to begin equalizing the women that are already in their workplaces, ours will be to equalize the number of women entering the workforce in the first place. Even so, the report will be a helpful guide.