Globally, in the last two years, women have made great strides in closing the gap for C-suite jobs. In fact, women now are better educated than ever, are stepping into high profile roles and are also outnumbering men as the primary breadwinners in their households.
However, despite this shift in most US companies, the percentage of women at or near the top has flattened and most professional women continue to suffer from occupational segregation in the workplace and find it hard to break through the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ created by their male colleagues, separating them from top-level jobs and the middle level professional positions.
While South Asia has made substantial progress mainly due to the efforts of the state to close the gender gap in top managerial and professional jobs, for most women in top management, it is still very lonely at the top and the glass ceiling still remains relatively intact. According to nonprofit research group Catalyst’s, despite a few headline grabbing gains in 2012, women still hold a very low percentage of the top jobs in the private and public sectors.
Globally, even though women represent more than 50 percent of the world’s labour force, their share of management positions still remains unacceptably low with just a tiny proportion succeeding in breaking through the glass ceiling to obtain those plum top jobs. One explanation for this, a small number of female executives is the persistence of negative stereotypes about women as top managers.
Attitudes about the role of women in society may have changed dramatically, but women are still perceived as being less suited than men to manage the top stressful, demanding and male dominated managerial positions. Such perceptions about female managers may cause firms to underutilize a significant part of the workforce. Women now represent nearly half of the total labor force, yet discrimination based on sex continues to occur in such areas as overseas training, foreign postings, performance appraisal, mentoring opportunities, pay and available career paths.
We often hear the argument that even though more and more women are getting professionally qualified there are still an insufficient number of professionally trained women to fill the top jobs. This argument is rapidly becoming outmoded. For example, the numbers of women qualifying as technology professionals, accountants and lawyers have increased drastically over the last few years and many of them make that extra effort to grow and build the required soft skills.
While gender differences still exist in professional study choices, women worldwide are demonstrating their intellectual ability and are approaching the levels of men in educational and intellectual attainment. However, women with family responsibilities find their upward movement often hampered as they fight for time to devote to both career and family. An important feature of professional and especially managerial work are the long working hours that seem to be required to gain recognition and eventual promotion.
Furthermore, women also need to work on the C-suite skills like business acumen, ability to negotiate assertively, strategic thinking, lead senior staff and invest in leadership talk time and also to manage adversity. Several women and probably some men think that women are bad negotiators. This perception hardly comes as a surprise as women compared to men are on average paid less and occupies fewer leadership positions, despite some reduction in the gender, salary gap and an increase in the number of women in leadership positions in the past decades.
Women when compared to men have on average fewer or worse negotiation opportunities and conditions. Even when given similar opportunities, women still get on average worse negotiated outcomes than men. There seems to be lots of evidence that women are indeed bad negotiators or at least worse than men. On the other hand, research suggests women’s negotiation outcomes are claimed to be more a consequence of learned gender behaviors than of genetic imprint. Indeed, women have great potential to become great negotiators if they only understand and overcome a few internal and external gender barriers.
The other question of whether having women on boards is a good thing is now a subject for much debate. Earlier research is contradictory: A paper in the Journal of Financial Economics, ‘Women in the Boardroom and their Impact on Governance and Performance’, contended that where management is already good, it is better to leave well alone rather than tamper with gender balance, though in cases of weak governance female directors brought improvement because they tended to exercise stronger oversight and there is also the belief of many senior business leaders that women have a beneficial effect on the character and culture of the boardroom.
In the final analysis, despite all the good intentions, most businesswomen still have to fight to get the kind of high profile assignments and international experience that typically lead to the C-suite. However, gender composition and disparities in advanced education are key factors contributing to a decline in C-suite talent. Therefore, women are important demographics for firms to help meet the talent shortage.