It is a truth universally acknowledged that women are underrepresented in corporate executive ranks. The reason, Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino explains, is that women do not want to occupy those lofty positions. They are unwilling to make the trade-offs that the positions require.
Many researchers consider this to be evidence of a crime, of sexist discrimination. They are persuaded that having more women in more positions of executive authority makes a company more profitable. And yet, they rarely consider the simple fact that women who do not want to rise up the corporate hierarchy have a right to their preference, that they are free to choose how they spend their time and energy. And that perhaps we should respect them for as much.
The researchers imagine that people are wired to seek personal happiness-- individual self-actualization-- and that women who want to spend more time with their children are compromising their happiness. Researchers never seem to consider that women are often happy to spend extra time with their children, that men are not adequate substitute mothers, and that mothers are happy to fulfill their moral duty to care for and to raise their children.
Apparently, these studies assume that exercising corporate power and earning gobs of money are the only real measure of happiness. They systematically disrespect women’s life choices because they are laboring under an ideological imperative that claims that career success is the sine qua non of human and especially female happiness.
These studies never ask whether or not children will suffer when their mothers abandon them. When Anne-Marie Slaughter famously quit her job as head of policy planning in Hillary Clinton’s State Department, she explained that her absences from home had harmed her children. Her older son, cared for by his father, had been suspended from school, had started hanging around with the wrong crowd and had been picked up by police.
Slaughter did what a good mother should do. She decided that her and her husband’s experiment in role reversal parenting had not worked. So she made a free choice and moved back home. Naturally, feminists rejected her for as much. They blamed it on the patriarchy. But, they never showed respect for Slaughter’s free choice.
When it comes to freedom to choose, feminists often accept only one free choice. Any time a woman chooses to live her life in a way that does not promote feminist ideology, the ideologues trash her.
In her Scientific American article, Gino describes the gender disparity that exists in American corporations:
There is a striking gender gap in leadership positions across our society. Women represent 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, only 15 percent of executive officers at those companies, less than 20 percent of full professors in the natural sciences, and only 6 percent of partners in venture capital firms. Scholars of the gap suggest that some of the explanation relates to how people perceive and react to women – the gender-based discrimination we so often read about in the news, which is perpetuated by both men and women. Compared to men, research shows, women are perceived as less competent and lacking in leadership potential. They receive fewer job offers and lower starting salaries, and are more likely to encounter challenges to, and skepticism of, their ideas and abilities.
As for the possibility that there is something about being a woman that makes it more difficult to be a good manager, the professor does not consider the point. And, as for the Darwinian theory that a more powerful woman will be less attractive to men while a more powerful man will be more attractive to women, apparently this does not enter into anyone’s thinking. Anyone, that is, except for the women themselves.
For many women, being a manager is simply not satisfying and it is not worth the tradeoff.
... women feel less happy than men when they occupy managerial positions, and expect to make more tradeoffs between life and work in high level positions. This points to a different way of understanding the problem and potentially solving it.
Naturally, she assumes, based on no real evidence, that women do not end up with the career that they want. It might be that they end up with the life that they want, but that does not seem to matter. She adds that companies with more women in executive roles are more profitable, message that apparently has not reached the immensely profitable companies in Silicon Valley. One repeats, yet again, that the company that was more aggressive in hiring and promoting women was Yahoo! How did that work out.
Thus, without knowing what kinds of companies are being referenced, I would be skeptical of these observations. If they are true, the marketplace will easily correct the situation. Companies that want to be more profitable will hire more women and companies that refuse to do so will fall by the wayside.
In Gino’s words:
Women may not end up with access to the type of career they want. As for firms, a recent paper based on data from nearly 22,000 firms globally found that going from having no women in corporate leadership (i.e., the CEO, the board, and other C-suite positions) to a 30 percent female share is associated with a 15 percent increase in profitability. Such benefits are due, at least in part, to the diversity in thinking and perspective that women and men bring to the table. As the researchers found, a single female CEO doesn’t perform better than her male counterpart when controlling for gender in the rest of the firm, but a higher rate of gender diversity throughout the organization does have an impact. There is a very good business case, then, for organizations interested in increasing gender diversity. But how can they get there, knowing that there are many reasons that may hold women back?
But, what if the women who occupy these high executive positions find themselves not having the lives that they want to have, not being able to spend time with their children when they want to do so? High executive positions are very demanding and very time consuming. When you reach the pinnacle of corporate success your time is no longer your own. Do we know whether these executive women are married or unmarried, have or do not have children? Life has trade-offs and people ought to be respected for the trade-offs they make.
This is a question addressed in a recent paper by Brockmann and colleagues. In fact, the paper compellingly demonstrates that for women in positions of leadership, the level of happiness and life satisfaction is lower than that of their male counterparts.
Top level positions in organizations come with many benefits, from higher pay to more influence, prestige and power. But they also require a larger time commitment. For women, that time commitment is often viewed as the need to make tradeoffs between family and work activities. Promotions to top positions in an organization, in fact, often involve sacrificing free time for money. And women realize that’s the case.
Again, why the subtle but persistent disrespect for the choices that women freely make:
he reason is that they see the position generating not only positive outcomes (such as money and prestige) as much as men do, but also negative ones (such as tradeoffs they’ll need to make and time constraints). That’s where men and women differ: in how much they predict these negative outcomes will affect their lives. The tradeoffs and constraints women predict they’ll experience when reaching high-level positions are related to the fact that, as we find in our work, women have a higher number of life goals as compared to men.
Researchers happily blame it on unsupportive men. This means that men should abandon their career goals in favor of their wives, regardless of the effect this will have on couple dynamics. We recall, yet again, that Anne-Marie Slaughter’s husband, Andrew Moravcsik did exactly that… and that it did not work out very well. One notes that such role reversal marriages require an ideological commitment that most people do not have and do not want to have. Being loyal to your ideas and being loyal to your children are not the same thing.
In Gino’s words:
Research has found that women often do not get the support they may need at home, when caring for house-related activities (e.g., doing laundry or making dinner) or when caring for children. It is possible, then, that women may worry their partner won’t step up and take over some of the domestic duties – and that such worry is larger for them than for men.
Naturally, Gino wants to rectify the situation and feels it is desirable to do so. She wants to create conditions that will induce women into making decisions that might not be in the best interests of their children:
Women may consciously decide not to climb the organizational ladder even when they are well qualified. Organizations and leaders can influence this decision, though. As suggested by the work of Brockmann and colleagues, they can do so by structuring and compensating managerial work differently. Building in more breathing space for leadership positions, and allowing for flexible career paths, are the types of solutions that could lead both men and women to reach high levels positions in organization and experience the happiness that can come with them.
Again, the question remains: how much do we respect women when they make choices that they feel to be the best for them and their children. And, if women are more engaged and more consumed by the work as executives what will happen to their children?