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Room at the top: advancement and equity for women in the business world.

According to The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don't, a study released by Catalyst, a nonprofit organization working to advance opportunities for women and business, one of the key barriers to women's advancement in corporate leadership is gender stereotyping. It leaves women with limited, conflicting, and often unfavorable options no matter how they choose to lead. This report, the third in Catalyst's in-depth series examining the pervasive and damaging effects of gender stereotyping in the workplace, focuses on the consequences of gender bias and three specific double-bind dilemmas frequently experienced by women business leaders.

Statistics released by Catalyst in 2011 show that women account for 46.7 percent of the U.S. labor force and that half, or 51.5 percent, of these working women hold management, professional, and related occupations. However, women are underrepresented in Fortune 500 top corporate positions. Women hold only 15.4 percent of corporate officer positions, 14.8 percent of board seats, and 2.4 percent (or twelve total) of chief executive titles in Fortune 500 companies. This amounts to women representing only 6.7 percent of Fortune 500 top earners. Yet a 2010 study by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company clearly links increased representation of women in executive ranks to increased corporate financial results. Most executives believe that including women at top levels drives performance, a fact that indicates that gender diversity initiatives are needed to address the disproportionate number of current women executives.

Given the contributions that women make, why are so few of them in C-level positions--that group of executives who preface their titles with the word "chief"?

Statistics show that when women are stereotyped, organizations routinely underestimate and underutilize their leadership skills and ultimately lose their top female talent. The message is clear: Unless organizations take action to address the impact of gender stereotyping, they will not be able to attract and retain talented women.

Men are still viewed as "default leaders" and women as "atypical leaders," with the perception that they violate accepted norms of leadership, no matter what the leadership behavior. Thus, the studies say, the masculine leadership norm shows that women leaders are perceived as "never just right." They are considered too soft or too tough. Women leaders also face higher standards than male leaders and are rewarded with less, always having to "prove" they can lead. Last, when women exhibit traditionally valued leadership behaviors such as assertiveness, they tend to be seen as competent but not well liked. Those who do adopt a more stereotypically feminine style are liked but not seen as having valued leadership skills.

There are numerous instances of the damage of gender stereotyping. For example, it was the central point in the landmark 1989 case in America of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, where Ann Hopkins sued her employer when she was not given a partnership. She eventually won her case in the Supreme Court. The evidence showed that everyone is unconsciously biased, and there is strong evidence that men are biased against promoting women inside companies.

Additional barriers to women's success include the lack of workplace flexibility, exclusion from informal networks, lack of role models and mentors, and businesses' lack of strategy for developing women leaders. According to Mercer, a global human resources consulting firm, 71 percent of companies do not have programs designed to develop women into leadership roles.

Business Can Turn It Around

So the question becomes: How can a company buck the odds and recruit, retain, and advance more women? Research has shown that change won't just happen. It needs specific intervention within companies--intervention that is led from the top.

Catalyst believes that organizations need to develop and promote change to rid the work environment of the damaging impact of gender stereotyping and take advantage of the expanding pool of female leadership talent. In order to meet marketplace demands, organizations must shift their norms. Simply learning about how stereotypes operate and holding individuals accountable can decrease the negative effects of gender stereotypic bias. Catalyst provides organizational action steps that companies can use to help root out the problem and reduce the effects of stereotyping in the workplace, including:

Providing women leaders and other employees with tools and resources to increase awareness of women leaders' skills and of the effects of stereotypic perceptions.

* Assessing the work environment to identify in what ways women are at risk of stereotypic bias.

* Creating and implementing innovative work practices that target stereotypic bias. These practices can be particularly effective when they address specific areas of risk, such as in an organization's performance management procedures.

* Establishing managerial training and diversity education to educate managers and employees regarding the origin and consequences of bias, inconsistencies between values and actual behavior, and causes and effects of gender inequality in the workplace.

* Managing performance and evaluation by employing objective and unambiguous evaluation criteria.

In addition to taking steps to alleviate gender stereotyping, companies should provide opportunities for flexible working, a particularly helpful way of keeping women in the workforce. KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, is aiming to double the percentage of its partners who are women (currently 13 percent). It says flexible working is a key measure to help it achieve this goal. Three-quarters of all requests for flexible working over the past twelve months have been from women.

In 2004, Grant Thornton, an international accounting and consulting firm, developed "Women at Grant Thornton" to retain and promote more women. The program focuses on ensuring a culture that enhances retention and recruitment of women, increasing the number of women in partnership and leadership roles, and recognizing women's success and enhancing their professional development.

Examples of programs created and delivered by Women at Grant Thornton include Centered Leadership, Sources of Career Capital, the Art of Executive Presence, Networking 101, the Conflict Cure, Becoming a Rainmaker Series: Lead Generation, and Unwritten Rules: What You Don't Know Can Hurt Your Career. The company also offers flexible work policies, paid parental leave, and adoption and employee assistance programs. In addition, it places a big emphasis on internal mentoring for staff to develop professionally and as community leaders.

Since Women in Grant Thornton began in 2004, women partners grew from thirty-one to eighty-eight, 184 percent, and 28 percent of them hold positions as managing partners for service lines, industries, or offices.

Another company making changes is Deloitte. It now carefully scrutinizes its pay and promotion decisions for bias, especially its list of new partners announced annually in June.

Women Drive the Economy

In today's social and economic environment, it will be critical for companies to develop or partner with organizations with programs that support the development of women. Programs that alleviate gender stereotyping and emphasize flexibility, opportunities, recognition, and mentoring need to be key areas of focus. Research has shown that companies that embrace these values will be the leaders in attracting and retaining a talented female workforce.

Women's advancement and equity in the business world is no longer just a matter of the right thing to do; it's clearly the smart thing to do. Women make over 85 percent of buying decisions, according to Stephanie Holland of She-conomy. This not only makes them a valuable target market, it makes them valuable corporate leaders with a strong understanding of consumer decision making.

Generally, women bring a different management style that's more inclusive and collaborative. As leaders, they are more likely to draw on others' expertise before making decisions. When women are included at all levels of management, a diverse environment is built where the best talent comes together, regardless of gender, to affect business decisions and direction.

Women's current and projected impact in the workforce and the economy commands our attention. Women's ability to increase profits and advance business from a unique perspective and leadership style ensures our attention. The advancement of women advances our society, and according to researchers, it ultimately improves the bottom line.

DOI: 10.1002/ncr.20061

References

Catalyst. "The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don't," July 2007. Retrieved March 27, 2011, from http://www.catalyst. org/publication/83/the-double-bind-dilemma-for-women-in -leadership-damned-if-you-do-doomed-if-you-don't.

Catalyst. "U.S. Women in Business," March 2011. Retrieved March 27, 2011, from http://www.catalyst.org/publication/ 132/us-women-in-business.

Holland, S. "Marketing to Women Quick Facts." She-conomy.com. Retrieved March 27, 2011, from http:// she-conomy.com/report/marketing-to-women-quick-facts/.

McKinsey & Company. "Women Matter 2010," October 2010. Retrieved March 27, 2011, from http://www.mckinsey. com/locations/paris/home/womenmatter.asp.

Mercer. "Most Employers Lack a Strategy for Developing Women Leaders, Mercer Survey Shows." Retrieved March 27, 2011, from http://www.mercer.com/referencecontent. htm?idContent=1408275.

Donna Evans is the president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce.
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Author:Evans, Donna
Publication:National Civic Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2011
Words:1463
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