I've heard it repeated too many times that women are getting ahead these days and that as a result it can be assumed that it is just a matter of time before our vision of women's economic parity becomes a reality. The idea is that we are on a glide path to parity and we can just sit back and wait because the result is inevitable. I get totally exasperated when I hear this kind of thinking because although I would love for it to be true, I just can't go along with it.
In this Harvard Business Review piece, Anne Kreamer, a woman who knows a thing or two about breaking a few glass ceilings having been the Executive VP of Nickolodeon and Nick at Night, asserts that it is just a matter of evolution that women will soon be running things as soon as the current crop of men at the top retires.
These kinds of assertions are always based on three factoids:
1) that women are now ahead of men as students------women are getting more of the advanced degrees and are graduating at a higher rate
2) that in some U.S. cities women in their 20's are actually making more money than their male counterparts, a reporting trend started by this USA Today article
3) that there are more women in middle management than ever before
Let's take a closer look. Certainly there is no disputing the gains women have made as students. I remember well when I was of college age (I'm 59) we women were still trying to figure out how to get more of us into medical schools, law schools, etc. This battle has been fought and won as women are no longer barred by gender from studying in any field they choose. And it is a great achievement------no argument there!!!!
So it would follow that there are more women entering the labor pool with certain credentials. And even though in some cities the females in their 20's might be making slightly more than the men in their 20's, it is no indicator of how these women will fare once they decide to have children and the changes children can bring to people's working lives. As a culture, we have most emphatically NOT resolved the work/parenting issues so necessary to supporting parents, and particularly mothers as they continue to figure out how to juggle parenting and professional duties. And with more and more households being headed by a single parent, these issues are going to need a fresh approach to solutions in order to keep women advancing in the workplace. For now, we've made little progress in this area, a major roadblock on the path to women's economic parity.
The idea that there are more women in middle management and as such these women have a springboard to break glass ceilings as never before is an argument with so many holes in it that it is laughable. First of all, women in middle management are there in greater numbers because THEY ARE PAID LESS and are much better for a company''s bottom line particularly in these lean times.
Secondly, the kinds of jobs women are clustered in in middle management aren't the jobs that typically comprise a path to upper management. Women are still given the "less desirable" slots in terms of advancement, even though they are in middle management.
And thirdly, women not only stall in middle management, they often just leave because the terms of employment are simply not conducive to their lifestyle choice. As such, the actual pool of women on track to be at the top is an extremely tiny cohort, a fact that all of the promising statistics stated above reveal if you study them for a few minutes.
In the end the real challenge to women is that we must not get complacent because things are improving. We can't let our guards down until the job is done. And to use these positive pieces of news to do another long victory lap would be a huge mistake. Do we want another 40 years to pass with women making 75 cents on the man's dollar?
To be fair, we should celebrate our progress. Why not? It's great to say that women in their 20's in a few places are actually making more then men or that more women graduate from professional schools that a generation earlier had few women. These are marvels in themselves!!! And more women in the workplace and more middle managers? FANTASTIC!!!!
The problem is letting our guards down and thinking that this progress means we are on the path to parity. We may well be, but it isn't going to happen on its own. People who hold power are NOT going to give it up easily. The type of person who craves that kind of power and rises to the top is a different breed. You don't find this type segregated in middle management. And for women to be part of this game, we are going to have to aggressively outsmart these men, a formula we haven't been successful at yet. And just because today's 20-something women have graduated in higher numbers and are employed in greater numbers than their predecessors, it may not follow that they will rise. The thinking here is that since the 20-something males are now more accustomed to seeing women be equals and more, that they will find it easier to share power. I hope with all my heart that this will happen, but there is no indication that it is really happening.
Bottom line, we can't rest on our laurels. Once again I must quote my mentor Mary Kay who always said that "nothing wilts faster than a laurel rested on." There are too many obstacles and potholes still facing today's women as we rise to shatter those glass ceilings. They may be closer to us so we can see them more clearly, but they are still smothering us. It will take a huge force to shatter them. We just haven't gathered enough of that force to make it happen.