The ‘Glass Ceiling’ And Breaking Into The Corner Office: Experts Weigh In On The State Of Working Women
2:15 pm, July 19th | by Laura Simmons
Today’s list of the “Top Businesses For Working Women” (see here) didn’t come without a hefty portion of research into the state of women in the workplace today — obviously. And beyond the each company’s facts and figures (board member stats, maternity leave stats and so on) came some advice and commentary from two of our favorite expert groups: Catalyst and Working Mother. How far have women come in the business world? What is left to be accomplished? Read on for answers — and some interesting trends for working women in the U.S. today.
For starters, all those conventional myths about the gender gap? Forget ‘em. Catalyst’s Christine Silva explained to us how her research on women in the workplace has led to some shocking revelations.
There’s been heavy focus on the “glass ceiling,” according to Silva, but Catalyst found that the gender gap starts much earlier than the “glass ceiling” concept suggests — even as far back as many women’s school years.
By following the careers of high-potential female employees and MBA graduates from top business schools before they reach the working world, Catalyst identified a gap in compensation and a lack of senior mentors as the real problems. And, as Catalyst showed in an earlier report, The Pipeline’s Broken Promise, the gender pay gap begins often begins for women in their very first MBA jobs, which they quantified as a gap of $4,600 that grew over time. What does this all mean? Many women hit the gender pay gap almost immediately — long before they run into the glass ceiling.
Silva explained that, “the notions of ‘give it time’ and ‘the gap will take care of itself’ were probably myths.” The gender pay gap doesn’t get better with time, she explained, it only gets worse.
So what’s causing this? Overall, Silva found that aspirations between men and women are the same and can’t explain away the gender gap. Rather, women need more “senior” mentors in the workplace to get ahead. Luckily that Mean Girls myth isn’t true. In fact, Silva found that not only did 65 percent of women choose to help develop other women, but these women who “paid it forward” through sponsoring actually saw a corresponding growth in compensation. She concluded, “we actually found that women were doing a lot of things to develop talent in the workplace.”
It’s these kinds of partnerships that could eradicate what Working Women’s Jennifer Owens describes as a “plateau” in the number of female corporate officers across the Fortune 500. Women are often thinking about the “complexity of life” and how this can overwhelm and cause women to fall out of the workplace, according to Owens. It’s a unique set of concerns that can elude many working women’s male counterparts. “When life gets complex (marriage, children, etc.), nuances of what success means gets more complex for women,” Owens explained. “If you always hire yourself then you have no diversity of thought and great companies know that you are shooting yourself in the foot if you’re not getting different views.”
And what about young women trying to break into the business world?
“It’s important to start thinking of yourself as a personal brand,” Owens said. “The power of virtual networking is incredible right now and can help you leap over the gate at so many companies. Meet people who are in positions and start conversations. Don’t be a stalker, but avail yourself for that.”
Pseudo-stalking? Whatever works, right?