Learning the Lesson of Gender

Discussion
Feb 26, 2010
Bernice Hurst

By
Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

As
the oft-quoted nineteenth century Spanish philosopher and novelist, George
Santayana, famously said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed
to repeat it.” One lesson many big businesses have failed to learn is how
best to employ (in both the literal and figurative senses) women. How to
hire them in the first place and then how to use them to the best of their
abilities.

As
usual, the principle enjoys almost universal approval with the practice
remaining an elusive aspiration. According to Forbes, Bain & Company
conducted a survey of more than 1,800 people worldwide and discovered that
near 80 percent claimed to be "convinced of the benefits of gender parity
at all levels." Respondents, comprised of men and women, allegedly "recognize
that retaining more women as they ascend the corporate ladder will add
diversity of experience and perspective and also will help them understand
women as buyers and influencers. Higher retention rates will also save
companies millions in recruiting and retraining costs."

The
problem, Forbes points out, is the difficulty in getting
women into leadership positions. While half of America’s workforce is female,
they explain, in 2009 women represented a mere "three percent of the chief
executives of the country’s 500 largest companies." Furthermore, "the female-to-male
ratio rapidly dwindles at almost every rung of the ladder upward, across
organizations and across industries."

The
two most likely causes cited are time off from career trajectories due
to motherhood, with the consequential lack of experience this causes, and
a failure by companies to enact consistent career development programs.
At least in part because of these corporate failures, more women are choosing
to start their own businesses rather than accept the frustration of being
employees. Bain apparently found "women entrepreneurs start nearly 1,600 businesses
daily in the U.S." They then quoted one such entrepreneur who explained,
"I chose to leave the corporate world and run my own company rather than try
to achieve gender parity at that corporation, in that industry."

Discussion
Questions: What in your opinion are the primary reasons that women
are represented in such low numbers in the executive ranks of business?
Are there opportunities for executive women particular to the retail
industry that should be further developed? What answers do you have that
will address the issue and improve business performance in the process?

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8 Comments on "Learning the Lesson of Gender"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

The reason women are under-represented is simple — the business world is still pretty much of a good old boy network and women threaten a lot of good old boys.

When will that change? The day we have to quit having discussions like this because we’ve become enlightened enough to view everyone exclusively on her/his own merits.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

This gives me an opportunity to bring up a family career arrangement that I see growing by leaps and bounds, particularly within retail ranks: the rise of the house husband! I personally know five high-powered female executives whose husbands stay home with the kids, run all of the errands, and do all of the cooking. Maybe the mantra is shifting from “One woman can’t have it all” to “One family can’t have it all.” Will these enlightened and perhaps more realistic family models pave the way for more female executive leadership? I’d like to think so!

Roger Saunders
Guest
11 years 2 months ago
Wow, ya’ll must be listening to the debates at my “good ole boy” clubs (actually, at both clubs, women play as many rounds as men, and they have access to tee times at the same times, except when it is Men’s Day or Women’s Day). This is a specious debate. As more and more women seek higher education (better than 55% of young adults in universities are female), and invest the time and their talent, they are going to the executive suite (don’t limit this to CEO only). The best way to get over this, as 80% of us want the parity, as the author points out, is to recognize that “wins” for female executives are happening every day in certain industries and certain companies. Women (and men) who find the organizations and industries that are culturally understanding–and appreciative that they want and need leaders who have the best human, technical, and conceptual skills to ramp themselves up to the executive suite, and are willing to foster the environment where that can happen–are the ones… Read more »
Mark Burr
Guest
11 years 2 months ago
Mr. Mathews is correct; everyone should be considered on his/her own merits. That’s true. The fact is that women and men are different. That fact doesn’t diminish or change the question of parity. It just means they are different. They are different in the workplace. They are different in life outside of the workplace. The challenge is creating environments where those differences can be welcomed and opportunities created that respect both without detrement to either. The ever changing roles of men and women both make things even more challenging. Often it is overlooked in many cases that men are playing different roles as well today in life outside of the workplace. From my view, that has driven and continues to drive more respect for women’s roles outside of the workplace. As that has changed, work culture has changed along with it, albeit likely not as fast as life has changed. Lines of role definition simply by gender are less clear than ever before. This of course adds to the challenge. In a broader sense, looking… Read more »
David Harvison
Guest
David Harvison
11 years 2 months ago

The “good ole boys club” is a wonderful myth, but if one wants to understand why more women are not at the top of the executive ladder ask the women who are there, and ask why most of their senior staffs are predominantly men. In politics look to women that reach the top, and review how many of their senior advisors are women.

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Seems a ridiculous conversation in this day and age, but unfortunately one we still need to have. I will say this though, I know of at least 3 women who were elevated to CEO level over the years who all had children; incredible leaders and wonderful moms, all at once…point is, it can be done!

It would also be worth a study to see which industries really lag in this category as obviously, the fashion/specialty retail industry has made great strides.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 2 months ago

Study after study has shown the women who do not take time off or choose not to have kids exceed men in achievement and comp pay. Those who take time off are usually not as well compensated, yet in line with the number of years of services. I think we are seeing a number of more prominent female CEO’s at the Fortune 500 and Inc 500.

Marilyn Smallwood
Guest
Marilyn Smallwood
11 years 2 months ago

Once we retire the current CEOs of the past generation whose wives have never had a career and totally devoted themselves to helping advance his career, things will change. We now have forty-something-aged women who have done both–motherhood and career. They have put in the time and energy just as their male counterparts have, and have come back from motherhood and picked up their careers. Their male counterparts have seen they can be counted on to continue working and are worth the investment in leadership roles.

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