Speaking of glacial change...
... last week the Economist published an article about the conundrum of the glass ceiling, stating that although "research by Catalyst found a strong correlation between the number of women in top executive positions and financial performance among Fortune 500 companies between 1996 and 2000" the following facts still hold true:
- Women account for 46.5% of America's workforce and for less than 8% of its top managers, although at big Fortune 500 companies the figure is a bit higher.
- [In a] large sample of British quoted companies, 65% had no women on their board at all in 2003.
- Female managers' earnings now average 72% of their male colleagues'.
- The management-consulting business.... loses twice as many women as men from the middle rungs of its career ladder.
How do they explain the persistence of the glass ceiling? They mention women's inability to access informal social networks, stereotyping of women as less capable of leadership, a lack of visible female role models, the flattening of corporate structures (which may make it more difficult to get promoted), and women's greater struggle with work-life issues (including taking time off to care for children, parents, and household demands). They also explore the possibility that women are less ambitious for top jobs, and that corporations are losing their best women to the more flexible world of entrepreneurial businesses.
What leverage do we have as a society to change this finding? And no, I don't believe the finding that diversity is associated with increased performance will be enough on its own to overcome stereotypes and unconscious patterns of informal social networking. We need to work from at least three angles:
- We have to start young, and we have to work on males' beliefs about themselves, not just women's beliefs about their capacity. Some of that work is already being done -- my husband, for example, pulls his weight with the "second shift" tasks in our household. Still, he's uncomfortable with the idea of taking a paid paternity leave, even though his company offers one, and women will never make it to the top in large numbers if men continue to believe it's their responsibility to take care of their households only through paid work.
- We have to find new ways of organizing careers that appeal to many (rather than being relegated to minority status as mommy tracks) and that allow people to move into and out of full-time work. In the US, that may mean moving away from associating health insurance with employment -- a huge political task.
- And we have to build networks of supporters for these initiatives which include members of the current, largely male, elite. This probably involves appealing to the generational protectiveness of CEOs and corporate directors who are fathers of daughters.
This is a much bigger change than simply aiming to raise breastfeeding rates in Northeast Ohio. It will probably still be underway when my daughter gives birth to her first child. Nevertheless, the same principles apply, beginning with Margaret Mead's axiom ("never doubt that a small group...") and including some of the additions recently suggested by Zaid over at WorldChanging. He suggests this addendum to Mead's famous quote:
"For a small group of thoughtful and committed people to change the world, they must believe that change is possible. They must be ready to act the moment a stuck system becomes liquid. They will only be effective if they display collective intelligence. Finally, they must live in a small world."