Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, June 14, 2021
As a woman who has been in the workforce for decades, I’m tired of reading about the glass ceiling, how few gains women have made, and how more women have left their jobs during COVID-19 because they have disproportionately borne the burden of child care, home schooling and housework. Why, after all this time, has so little changed despite corporate initiatives, public policy programs and grassroots activism?
The issue has been analyzed and reported on ad nauseam, but progress has been slow, and still stories of sexual harassment and pay inequity in the workplace are common. But hope for solutions rather than platitudes springs eternal and a few weeks ago, I attended a Zoom presentation on a new book, “Glass Half Broken, Shattering the Barriers That Still Hold Women Back at Work,” by Colleen Ammerman, director of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School, and Boris Groysberg, a Harvard Business School professor.
First, some data. Despite making up the majority of college-educated workers in the United States, women are still dramatically underrepresented in the ranks of business executives. In 2020, only 7.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies were run by women. And this was an all-time high. And of these 37 women, only three were women of color.
Women generally attain leadership positions by threading the thinnest of needles — managing the trade-off between competence and likability. I’ve certainly experienced this challenge in my career.
To my delight, Ammerman and Groysberg offered concrete actions that individuals can take, structural changes that organizations can make, and leadership roles that men can play in addressing the inequities.
First, men are essential to the success of women. “Because they are in positions of power, authority and influence, they can sidestep some of the backlash that women receive, and their efforts to combat sexism are seen as more legitimate and more favorable,” the authors write. As I reflect on my own career, two of my best mentors were men who provided me with valuable opportunities to grow my professional expertise.
The challenge is that men often don’t see the barriers that women confront, they’re afraid to “swim against conventional expectations,” and they don’t think it’s their place to speak up unless the company empowers it and says it’s important.
Structural changes are harder. Companies need to hire and support diversity in how they integrate new employees, how they handle professional development, and how they compensate and promote.
For example, it matters how the job description is written, where it’s posted, the way that resumes are reviewed, and the structure of the interview process. Here are some suggestions from the book:
Clearly stated requirements make qualified women more likely to apply.
Provide time to look more deeply and not just jump at the first candidate.
Remove information about candidate gender through blind auditions and anonymized resumes in the first screening of resumes.
Track the proportion of male and female candidates and compare results to the average for your industry as well as to your internal aspirations for diversity.
Harness appropriate networks that may be outside your normal scope.
Utilize a diverse panel of interviewers and use a standardized format to ensure that all candidates are held accountable to the same standards.
Educate interviewers and evaluators about unconscious bias about a woman’s lower commitment or competence.
In the 1980 movie, “9 to 5,” Dolly Parton sang:
Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living
Barely getting by, it’s all taking and no giving
They just use your mind, and they never give you credit
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.
Many women, in various stages of their careers and all across the country, still feel this way. “Women’s aspirations shrink and crumble under the pressure of an unequal reality, paths to advancement blocked, contributions that go uncredited and unrewarded, and a profound sense of frustration with such unfair conditions,” the authors write.
I’m an optimist. I believe in change. Ceilings can be raised and broken.
Neil Senturia and Barbara Bry are married, serial entrepreneurs who invest in early stage technology companies. You can hear their weekly podcast on innovation
and entrepreneurship at imthereforyoubaby.com.
Please email ideas to Neil at [email protected].
“Glass Half Broken”
If you’d like to learn more on how to change the current paradigm, the Workforce Equity & Civility Initiative would like to invite you to attend a free community conversation on Zoom with book co-author Colleen Ammerman on June 23 from 4-5:30 pm. For more information, go to Eventbrite or email [email protected].