78.5 F
San Fernando
Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Despite Change, Women Are Still Facing Hurdles

More than 40 years since Betty Friedan wrote “The Feminine Mystique,” launching the modern feminist movement, women have infiltrated every corner of the professional world: They own businesses, they practice law, they explore space. Oprah Winfrey is the wealthiest woman in Hollywood (and arguably among the most powerful). A woman, Meg Whitman, sits at the helm of eBay Inc. and, until recently, another woman Carly Fiorina, held the top spot at Hewlett-Packard Co. So why are we still talking about women in the workplace, a descriptor that, by its very nature suggests gender differences continue to define dynamics in the business world; men and women continue to experience their jobs, professions and opportunities differently; and gender equality has not yet arrived? The simple answer is because it hasn’t. To be sure, women now represent a little more than half the managerial and professional workforce, half the graduating lawyers and CPAs and a third of business school graduates. But they hold a mere 14 percent of the board seats on Fortune 500 companies and only 16 percent of the corporate officer posts at those corporations, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory group. It was a woman, Stephanie L. Kwolek, who invented Kevlar, the material now used in bullet proof vests, and a woman, Rosalyn S. Yalow, who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the radioimmunoassay that’s now standard practice for screening blood for everything from detecting hepatitis in blood banks to testing hormone levels for infertility, but try finding a female biotech CEO, IT chief or video game designer. Women account for only about 25 percent of information technology jobs, according to the Information Technology Association of America and less than 6 percent of engineering managers, according to the American Electronics Association (AeA). And while women own nearly half of all privately-held firms, they receive only about 15 percent of venture capital funding, according to Springboard Enterprises, a nonprofit that helps women connect with funding sources. They make, on average, less than 80 cents for every dollar a man earns, a fact that has recently led to a rash of sex discrimination claims against some of the nation’s largest employers. And, 40 years since sex discrimination was held illegal by the federal courts, the president of Harvard University is apparently still considering the notion that “intrinsic aptitude” may be behind the paucity of women in the sciences and engineering. So what has changed for women in the workplace? “Not enough,” said Judith Chipps, first vice president for investments at Merrill Lynch in Encino. “I think large corporations have much more awareness and have made provisions for important things like pregnancy. On the other hand, there’s a difference between having a professional career and being a partner, and I think the same issues that have made it difficult for women to be highly successful and the same roadblocks exist.” Since last year there has been a barrage of sex discrimination lawsuits, many class actions, affecting hundreds of women. In 2004, Boeing agreed to pay some $72 million and Morgan Stanley conceded to a $54 million settlement to resolve class-action suits charging unfair pay and promotion practices. Earlier this year, UBS was ordered to pay about $29 million to a former saleswoman who charged she was passed over for a promotion. And in the largest civil rights class action suit ever, female employees of Wal-Mart are suing the retailer for discriminating against them in pay, training and promotion opportunities. Women’s lingering second class citizenship in the workplace has been the subject of numerous studies, with enough accompanying theories to fill Imelda Marcos’s legendary closet of shoes. Among the most cited, women cannot devote the same time and attention to their careers because of child-rearing issues. A Harvard study funded last year by Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Bros. found that 37 percent of women and 43 percent of women with children left work voluntarily at some point in their careers, often to care for children or ailing parents. That compares with just 24 percent of men, most of whom made the decision to step off the career ladder in order to get additional training or start a new business. Unlike the men, whose time off is put to use refining or retooling their carreers, women tend to have a much more difficult time reentering the workforce. “The implication is clear: Off ramps are around every curve in the road, but once a woman has taken one, on-ramps are few and far between and extremely costly,” the study’s authors wrote. The study found that business women who take time off lose an average of 28 percent of their earning power and as much as 37 percent when they spend three years or more out of the workforce. The interruptions also take a toll on women’s ability to rise to the highest ranks in corporations, but they are not the only reasons. “There are barriers to women’s advancement that become more significant as they go up that leadership ladder,” said Kara Helander, vice president for the Western region of Catalyst, referring to the steep falloff between the numbers of women in professional ranks and the numbers who make it to the top. In one Catalyst survey, women said that the lack of access to informal networking, a lack of role models and subtleties in the way men view them are also at play. “I’m not talking about overt chauvinism or misogynistic behavior,” Helander said. “It’s things like assuming a woman with children wouldn’t be open to travel so they are not even offered that option. The other thing we see is there are certain assumptions about women’s leadership ability, that they’re not tough enough, that can come into play over time and limit women’s opportunities.” Then too, some point out 40 years is really not a long time in the scheme of things. “When did women start getting tracked into college? The ’70s,” said Amy Millman, president of Springboard Enterprises in Washington D.C. “When did they start getting tracked into professional positions? The ’80s. And then in the 90s they start going into the heavier technology, math and medical fields. It takes 10 years to get your Ph.D, so then you spend a few years n the lab and a few years with corporations and now you’re ready. It’s a 15-year cycle from the time you enter college until you get to the point where you have something valuable to market.” Millman points out that until very recently, most women entering the business world have been in service industries, areas that do not attract venture capital investment no matter who runs the company. “We’re just beginning to see the first wave of women in these areas, to not just do research but to commercialize that research,” Millman said. Today, women earn more than half the undergraduate biology degrees and nearly half of the chemistry degrees. Other changes appear to be afoot as well. About 21 percent of those who earn engineering degrees are women, up from just 1 percent in 1972. There are 201 female federal judges, up from 48 in 1981. And even the small showing of women who head Fortune 500 companies is twice that compared to seven years ago. As women have infiltrated occupations traditionally held by men, they have also begun to change attitudes, making it easier for the girls who are coming after them. That is, perhaps, nowhere more evident than in sports world. “When I was in junior high I wanted to continue playing soccer, and I was told soccer is for boys,” said Barbara C. Oberman, senior account executive for Poms & Associates, insurance brokers in Calabasas. “I was crushed. “Now it’s very popular for women to get sports scholarships. That to me is very encouraging.”

Featured Articles

Related Articles