Gender Roles in Business

“I don’t play golf. I don’t go to the men’s room. I didn’t have the ability to network the way men do. But I made myself visible.”

-Jill Barad (1951-) US former CEO of Mattel

Source Wall Street Journal (1997)

Women account for only 3% of the chief executives at the helm of the 500 biggest U.S. Companies[1]. There is a large disparity in pay between female and male executives. Mary Ellen Page writes that “according to compensation experts, the disparity in pay can be attributed, in part, to the tendency of female executives to choose a straightforward salary and bonus package over stock and options laden one.” Women get paid on current business performance; in essence, their pay is tied more closely to the firm’s performance. Women have to work harder to advance in the workplace and often have to take on riskier assignments, improve their negotiation skills, and grow a tougher skin.

Female CEOs take on riskier assignments, in order, to advance in their career. For example, consider Campbell’s CEO transition from Douglas Conant to Denise Morrison. Morrison is going to run a company with an uncertain future. Americans have lost their taste for soup, and their rival Progresso has taken a lot of market share. Riskier assignments also mean a higher probability of failure. When a female CEO fails, it’s the news of a century. Recently, Avon announced the replacement of Andrea Jung as CEO. When Mrs. Jung first became CEO in 1999, she was the first woman to lead the consumer products company. She won admiration for her attention to detail, and changed the company culture. The company grew successfully until 2005 when profit margins began to shrink. Avon began faltering international markets, and loosing business in the US. Critics have publically denounced Jung as a failed CEO. But when JCPenney announced its executive replacement, more attention was placed on the incoming CEO, Ron Johnson, than JCPenney’s old CEO. In fact, in most articles, there is mention of JCPenney’s faltering business, but never is the old CEO mentioned as being the cause of it.

Women may be perceived overly ambitious when they improve their negotiation skills. Consider Hilary Clinton. While she was running for election, many people negatively pointed out that she was very strong willed and ambitious. For some reason, the public did not associate the other male presidential candidates as ambitious. Although in order to get the nomination ticket, these men had to be equally as ambitious. I, also, remember during Bill Clinton’s presidential term, many people postulated that Hilary was behind his actions. Now for some reason, people saw this as bad. From personal experience, I have seen mothers playing a huge role in the decision making process. These reactions from the public highlight is that women cannot act like men, but they cannot be too nice, otherwise they could be perceived as pushovers.

In the past couple of years of school, I have realized that advancing in a career is not only based on whether you are smart. It is a game that relies heavily on your personality. A woman has to very ambitious to rise to the top of the corporate ladder, and promotions don’t just happen to women. Furthermore, once a female starts rising beyond the director level, there comes a point where the “needing to be liked” syndrome has to be shed.

I have made several mistakes in groups. First, I seem to be the one who never says NO to tasks. While other people, might say they cannot due to family obligations or studying for exams, I would rearrange my schedule to be able to make it. In the past couple of months, I have stopped doing that, and try to let people take on more of the share. I am working on the needing to be liked aspect, too. I usually ignored when certain classmates were being rude or disrespectful. I recently spoke up, and stood my ground when a male classmate was acting obnoxious. Now, I may not have done it in the best manner. Regardless, I am proud of myself for finally being able to stand my ground and not care what people think of me. I am trying to work on my confrontation and negotiation skills, and asking for what I want. One of my greatest weaknesses is undervaluing my skills and intelligence. I have to really work on this.

I do not need statistics to understand that in business it’s still a good old boy system. All I have to do is look around my graduate class and calculate the ratio of men to women. In my information enabled supply chain class there is a 3:1 ratio of male to female. When I walk into a professional organizational meeting, the ratio still holds true. Most of the attendees are men. I also look at the ethnic background. I am the only Hispanic female in my information enabled supply chain class of 24. Last semester, when I was taking all my core courses, and classes were three times as big, I was still the only Hispanic female in the room. I am completely outnumbered in a deep, homogenous pool of future employees. I am turning this into a good thing. It allows me to stand out and be visible.

[1] “Top paid Female Chief Executives” by Mary Ellen Page, Forbes


P.S. I wrote this for one of my classes. Hope you enjoy!

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