She's Here to Stay
Women are moving ahead much faster
than men in business, even if men are still in
We’re lucky to be part of an industry in which women
and men work together every day without a lot of hoopla. We
value that women in business are here to stay. But were you
aware that women are outpacing men in income gains, new
business ownership, and higher levels of
education—including college enrollments, undergraduate
and graduate degrees, and doctorates?
Women are outpacing men in home buying, and—make room,
boys—women comprise the majority of new hunters.
Outpacing doesn’t mean leading, it just means moving
ahead faster, but most experts think women will indeed overtake
men in these categories. And soon.
When you think about it, the progression of women’s
rights is relatively new and swift. Not until 1920 were women
granted the constitutional right to vote. Unbelievably, this
was years, and in some cases decades, after women were
graduating from top universities such as MIT. This was long
after Clara Barton founded the Red Cross, Susanna Madora Salter
was elected mayor of Argonia, Kan., golfer Margaret Abbott won
an Olympic medal and Jeannette Rankin of Montana was elected to
Congress. Yes, all without voting rights.
After 1920, women’s opportunities proliferated. The
feminist movement took hold, and Titles VII (from the Civil
Rights Act of 1964) and IX (from the 1972 law banning gender
discrimination in education) changed the legal landscape in
support of women’s rights. Politically, women reached
high office, including U.S. Supreme Court justice, U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations, attorney general, secretary
of state, secretary of labor, and Speaker of the House.
Amazing progress, but throughout all the exciting years of
social, political and legal change, fewer public mothers and
daughters went to work, earned degrees, moved up through the
ranks and continued to struggle with varying degrees of
chauvinism, gender discrimination and harassment. If
you’ve never observed or experienced the frustration and
damage caused by sexism, watch an episode of “Mad
Men,” AMC’s hit television show about the
advertising men and women on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s.
Some feel this show is condescending to women and so
don’t watch it, but a recent article in The Washington Post reflects the attitude
of many men and women: It’s difficult to watch because it unflinchingly and
correctly portrays the sexism of the era. Historians
“love the show,” reports the Post. “It is, quite simply, one of
the most historically accurate television series ever
So how does a firm make sure it’s not stuck in the
’60s? How do we wrap our arms around women’s issues
and concerns, avoid gender bias, and profit from the value that
women bring to the workforce?
Remove artificial barriers and
outdated perspectives that stand in your way.
Ultimately, gender biases and adverse actions will be dangerous
to your organization’s future. And not just because
someone may take you to court. As The
Washington Post recently reported on Vice Admiral Ann
Rondeau, the president of the National Defense University, at
Fortune magazine’s Most
Powerful Women summit: more women should be in combat now
because we “can’t win this current fight without
women on the field. It is just a fact.”
Translated to the business world, your firm will not be
competitive or successful unless you not only hire, but
actively develop and deploy, the most qualified individuals,
whether they be men or women. Put your women into
combat—that is, train them, mentor them and send them
into action, whether it’s in front of the board or in
front of a client. Let them help you succeed.
Don’t assume women’s
issues are yesterday’s news. It’s a mistake
to think that just because you have a female executive or top
producer that your firm is gender neutral. Take a look at the
overall demographics of your organization. If your firm is like
many in our industry, women comprise a large percentage of
service and internal support roles and a lower percentage of
senior management roles. If this is the case at your firm,
modify your succession and recruitment plans so that qualified
women are appropriately represented. Monitor your promotion and
performance evaluation processes for any gender bias.
Eliminate gender-based language and
stereotypes. I’m not promoting a sanitized
workplace where no one utters a four-letter word. I’m
also not so unrealistic to think that name-calling can be
eliminated. However, certain slang words that negatively
portray woman should be eradicated from office-speak. So, too,
should damaging and demeaning stereotypes be eliminated.
I’m old enough to remember the sting of the insinuation
that a smart and respected colleague “slept her way to
the top,” the disbelief that managers refused to hire
young women because they “get married, have babies and
expect paid maternity leave,” and the frustrating
exclusivity of the good ol’ boys network.
It’s difficult to write about women’s issues
because it’s hard to discuss the issue without pointing
fingers at men or at least creating that perception. Jane
Galvin Lewis’s quote about this difficulty hits the nail
on the head and offers a conciliatory approach. “You
don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman,” Lewis
says. So be pro-man and
pro-woman, or, better yet, be pro-people to ensure that your
firm is, just like working women, here to stay.
Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Office
of the President.