November 14, 2012
It may have been a man’s world in the past when it comes to business, but women now make up almost half (46.6%) of the United States labor force, according to recent data by Catalyst Research. Unfortunately, only 7.5% of the Fortune 500 top earners are female and a mere 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Find out how masculine norms in the workplace could be holding women back.
In a previous blog, How To Reduce Workplace Gender Segregation And Help Women Obtain Higher Paying Jobs, I discussed how workplace gender segregation holds women back from obtaining higher paying jobs that could help reduce the pay gap between women and men. Now, an article on Knowledge@Wharton suggests another reason women are finding it hard to reach the top levels in business is because “the unwritten rules of the workplace continue to favor men.”
As Anne Hardy, vice president of technology strategy at SAP Labs stated in the article, companies today “are building on masculine norms.” To help women climb the proverbial career ladder, Hardy recommends that managers determine ways to create workplace environments that allow women to thrive and grow. Would a workplace built on feminine norms be all that different than those built on masculine norms? Many women believe the answer is a resounding “yes.”
According to Marsha Firestone, president and founder of the Women Presidents’ Organization, top women-run companies have interesting similarities. For example:
- 100% of the 50 fastest growing women-led companies provide health insurance
- 88% provide 401ks
- 80% provide life insurance
- 66% offer telecommuting
As the article points out, this is in stark contrast to other companies. “Nationwide, 62% of private companies offer health insurance and 47% offer retirement benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; 59% of private company employees have access to life insurance and just 5% have access to flexible workplace policies.”
Other women in the article, such as Monica McGrath, a human resource consultant and adjunct professor of management at Wharton, believe a business built on female norms would also be more innovative when it comes to policy issues that relate to family. “That doesn’t just mean offering flextime — it means helping women manage their child care responsibilities and family roles while also helping grow their careers.”
How might masculine norms be holding women back in the workplace?
- Subtle stereotypes and unintentional biases: This might include not considering (or asking) a qualified female for an overseas position merely because she has small children.
- Bosses who are insensitive to work/family obligations: Women tend to leave positions when they work for a boss who is insensitive balancing work and family demands. This was found to be especially true in engineering jobs. According to Romila Singh, a professor at the Lubar School of Business and associate director of the Center for the Study of the Workplace at UW-Milwaukee, “Many women engineers who left the field reported that it was difficult to prioritize work and family if bosses were not sensitive to those issues.”
- Negotiation skills: According to Deborah Small, a professor of marketing and psychology at Wharton, difficulty in women reaching higher levels in management may also be due to a failure to negotiate because “women don’t initiate negotiations as much as men do.”
What can women do to help level the playing field and advance to higher levels of management? For starters, realize that “Today’s workplace norms are not just male norms; they are the norms,” as Deborah Small points out in the article. Then, analyze the norms in your company and industry and work to either conform to those norms or change them to better fit the needs of half the working population (women).
Photo credit: Microsoft Free Clip Art