Catalyst discovers a “broken pipeline”

Catalyst, a leading voice for women’s advancement in corporations since 1962, is starting to lose their patience. A report recently issued by them, entitled “Pipeline’s Broken Promise,” finds that – regardless of well-intentioned efforts within major corporations – women start out their corporate careers one step behind men and maintain that gap throughout their careers.

More specifically, the study finds that:

  • women lag their male counterparts from the first job onward, scoring lower positions and lower salaries in their first corporate jobs out of the starting gate;
  • these salary differences persist as women and men progress up the career ladder; and
  • these differences exist regardless of aspirational goals or parental status.

The study is based on interviews with over 4,000 women and men receiving MBAs from 26 leading business schools on three continents between 1996 and 2007, who are still working full-time in corporations. (Makes one wonder what the results would have been if they had interviewed some of the graduates who are no longer working in these large firms. Maybe some of them would be women who had grown fed up with this very situation?)

Click on this link to learn more about the research and to download the free report and a statistical appendix.

Womenable, for one, is happy to see that Catalyst is finally taking their gloves off a bit. Despite their best efforts – which have been invaluable in bringing attention and good research to the lack of advancement of women in the corporate world – only 14% of top executives in the world’s publicly-traded corporations are women, and only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Yes, one could certainly say that “inequality remains entrenched” in these halls of corporate power. A mild understatement to say the least. While not exactly biting the hand that feeds them, at least Catalyst is speaking truth to power with a bit more urgency and a tad more exasperation.

Can We Do It? Yes, But When … and How?

We’ve heard a lot of positive news lately about the rise of women – in the workforce, in corporate leadership, and in business ownership:

  • The recent Shriver Report, entitled “A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” marks the soon-to-occur occasion of women comprising half of the workforce in the United States,
  • The Center for Women’s Business Research states that a more complete accounting of the economic contribution of women-owned firms should go well beyond their revenues, and estimates that it could be as much as $3 trillion if the purchases of the firms, their employees and their suppliers are included, and
  • The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute recently postulated that, by the year 2018, women-owned firms would account for as much as one-third of new jobs in the US.

Economist cover with Rosie
Most recently, the January 2nd issue of The Economist proudly displayed Rosie the Riveter on the cover, drawing attention to an article, headlined “Female power,” which boldly states that “the economic empowerment of women across the rich world is one of the most remarkable revolutions of the past 50 years.”

Progress has not been uniform, however, as the article correctly states. Developed economies have advanced farther than emerging economies, and – while there is more economic opportunity for women as workers, managers and owners – public policies, programmatic support and cultural views still present barriers to gender equality.

The fact that there is still a rather divided picture and point of view of the economic status of women need go no further than the article on the facing page of The Economist’s cover story. There, in stark contrast to the largely positive tone of “Female power” is the curmudgeonly Schumpeter column, entitled “Womenomics,” which blasts women business owners who want to lead their firms in a more interactive, idealistic, and nurturing manner as misguided. Schumpeter opines that “women would be well advised to ignore the siren voices of feminism,” concluding that “it would be a grave mistake to abandon old-fashioned meritocracy just at the time when it is turning to women’s advantage.”

Well, Womenable would say that if we all behaved ourselves, acted more lady-like and awaited the meritocracy to reward us for our good behavior, we’d be waiting a darn long time. The Schumpeter column admits this, saying that at the current rate of progress it would take 60 years for women to gain equal representation on the boards of the FTSE 100. Similarly, just 15% of board seats on Fortune 500 companies are held by women, and just 13.5% of executive officer positions in these companies are occupied by women. These shares have not risen significantly in recent years, leading Catalyst’s President and CEO Ilene Lang to state, ” The time is up for ‘give it time.'”

We agree. Why should women continue to wait for our turn – or, for that matter, lead and manage our businesses the way it has always been done? While Womenable fully subscribes to the slogan “We Can Do It!” we don’t feel that we’re quite at “We Did It!” yet. And, as to waiting for the meritocracy to reward us for our good behavior, we’d reply with another aphorism: “well-behaved women rarely make history.”