On March 8, 2011 International Women’s Day was celebrated. Was there much to celebrate? Has the glass ceiling been broken? Despite significant advances in the past two decades for women in the workplace, the advances have rarely reached the top, and there’s significant evidence that gender equity may even have taken a step backward. And the recession and its attendant conservative economic and social movements may have much to do with this.

Hermina Ibarra and Morten Hansen in the December 21, 2009 Harvard Business Review, studied the leadership of the 2,000 of the world’s top performing companies, they found only 29 (1.5%) of those CEOs were women, an even smaller percentage than on the Fortune 500 Global list (2.5%). Only one woman, Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, made it to their top 100 CEOs list. In the U.S., women comprise 57% of all college students but only 26% of full professors and only 14% of University presidents. Despite being nearly 50% of law school graduates, women make up only 18% of law partners and only 25% of judges. Only 9.4% of jobs of Vice-President or higher are occupied by women according to a study completed byCatalyst Corporation.

The World Economic Forum’s 2010 Global Gendership Report shows that the U.S. ranks 19 among the 132 countries studied gender equity and Canada was a surprising 20th in 2010. What’s interesting is that when the study was done in 2006, the U.S. was 23rd and Canada was 14th. Which countries ranked at the top? Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and New Zealand. Canada is now actually lagging behind the U.S. in promoting women as leaders of organizations, even though Canada’s reputation as a more liberal and socially conscious country is widespread. In Canada, women comprise just 2% of CEOs at Canada’s 1,000 largest public companies.

At the same time, we’re seeing a significant shift in women’s participation in the workplace and education, but not an equitable shift in terms of rewards.

Men now comprise barely 40% of enrolled University and College students and graduates. In fact, a gender education gap, in which women are far outpacing men in terms of educational achievement, has been quietly growing in America over the past few decades. In 2009, for instance, women will earn more degrees in higher education than men in every possible category, from bachelor’s level to Ph.D.s, according to the U.S. Department of Education. When it comes to masters-level education, for instance, U.S. women earn 159 degrees for every 100 awarded to men. For the first time, less than 50% of law school graduates are men in North America.

Today, double the number of unmarried women are purchasing homes in America than there are unmarried men. Forty percent family’s primary breadwinner are now women, a sharp increase from past decades. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this fall, for the first time in U.S. history, women have surpassed men and now make up more than 50 percent of the nation’s workforce. In 1967, by comparison, women accounted for just 30% of all workers.

The recession has hit men hard: 80% of the jobs lost during this current recession have been held by men. The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives has termed the current recession as a “he-cession.” Christopher Grieg, of the University of Windsor, researched news stories, advertisements, autobiographies and government research reports to uncover a pervasive attitude that traditional masculinity is under siege and he says that the impact of job loss during the recession, which as hit men the hardest, combined with other social changes provoke a sense of the masculine identity under threat.

And that masculine threat may account for a resurgence of male testosterone in our culture. What does the future look like for men and women in the future job market? Only 2 of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the next decade are traditionally male dominated–janitor and computer engineer. According to the Center for American Progress many of the new jobs replace the things that women used to do in the home for free. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed very little as men avoid some careers that mostly women enter–for example, nursing.

University of Stockholm researcher Drude Dahlerup reported that in 2004 only 15.6% of the legislators in governments around the world are women; in Scandinavian countries, the figure is 40% and in North America it is 18.5% not much higher than the world average.

In 1970 women contributed 2-6% of family income; now the typical working wife brings home over 42% of family income; and 40% of mothers, many of them single, are primary breadwinners in their families. The idealized family, where the father works and the mother stay at home, is a thing of the past. As women become equal breadwinners, increasing number of them are unable to find men with a similar income and education, and are foregoing marriage altogether. In 1970, 84% of women ages 30-44 were married, now 60% are unmarried.

In both the U.S. and Canada, the majority of small business startups and entrepreneurial ventures belong to women, and the failure rates for small business startups are considerably lower for women than men.
Women own more than 40% of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Women are assuming the top political positions in an increasing number of countries, including Australia, Finland, Argentina, Ireland, New Zealand, The Philippines and Latvia, and Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir is the world’s first openly lesbian head of state.

Despite these advances, the general social view of women as being equal to men has not kept pace. Part of the problem is still how women are portrayed in popular media. On the one hand we want and expect women to take an equal leadership role to men, yet in popular media women are still portrayed as subservient and objectified, which has a significant impact on young people. The Institute for Gender in Media released a report that showed 71% of the speaking roles for the 50 top grossing PG, G and PG-13 movies had men’s or boy’s voices. Further, in three years’ worth of children’s movies ranging from fictional narratives to dramas and cartoons, female characters are mostly young, sexy, beautiful and passive sidekicks. One quarter of the female characters wore sexy attire. One in five was partly nude. One in five is under the age of 21. In those same three years of children’s’ movies, the content creators were almost all men, comprising 93% of the directors, 87% of the writers and 80 % of the producers.

Judy Holm, a former executive at PolyGram Film Entertainment, who co-founded Markham Street Films, says that the current recessionary period has reflected an increasingly conservative agenda into Hollywood, where women once again are marginalized into either support or stereotyped roles. Part of the reason for this is the replacement of visionary studio heads by corporate CEOs, who are mostly male, and who are concerned primarily about the financial bottom line. According to the Women’s Media Center, only 3% of decision-making positions in media (film, TV, newspapers, radio, online, etc.) are held n y women. Fewer than 25% of the op-eds are written by women, and of the 250 top-grossing films of 2009, only 16% could claim a female in a key creative role such as producer, director, writer, film editor or cinematographer.

How do women do when they’re given a real equitable chance? Here’s some data.

Nordic countries continue to lead the way in eliminating gender inequality,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. “Low gender gaps are directly correlated with high economic competitiveness. Women and girls must be treated equally if a country is to grow and prosper.” In Nordic nations, women live longer, have high employment rates and often enjoy generous maternity and paternity schemes. There are more than 1.5 women for every man enrolled in tertiary education.

Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University and co-author of the report, said “Progress will be achieved when countries seek to reap returns on the investment in health and education of girls and women by finding ways to make marriage and motherhood compatible with the economic participation of women.

Melanie Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, says that the report “shows a strong correlation between gender equity and a country’s prosperity and competitiveness.” Making reference to the report, Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a leading global IT company commented that the report “highlights serious gender inequalities that need to be rectified…not just out of fairness, but because companies are wasting talents and skills that can generate significant competitive advantage.

Laura D’Andrea Tyson, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who was among the report’s authors contends, “The bottom line here is that you don’t fully capitalize on the potential of your talent base” without the full participation of women in an economy….There is a link between how well a country does on competitiveness and how well it does with the gender gap.”

This position is supported by a McKinsey study. A 2010 McKinsey survey has shown that as the number of women participating in the work force has grown, their potential influence on business has become more important, with 72% of those surveyed believing there is a direct connection between a company’s gender diversity and its financial success. At the same time, the study concluded the t companies have not successfully bridged the gap between men and women in top levels of management, reflecting that diversity is not an organizational priority.

McKinsey’s research on gender diversity and financial performance began in 2007 with its Women matter: Gender diversity, a corporate performance driver. That report found the 89 listed European companies with market capitalization over 150 million with the highest gender diversity also had the highest return on equity, operating results, and stock price. Respondents in the 2010 survey who believe in the connection between diverse leadership teams and financial success have grown to 72%. It’s interesting to note that respondents in the Asia-Pacific and developing markets rate gender diversity as a higher priority than North America.

There’s evidence that female executives do more diligence than their male counterparts: A study by the Conference Board of Canada, found 72% of boards with 2 or more females conduct formal board performance evaluations, while 49% of all-male boards do. A study published by Harvard Business School found firms with female board members were more likely than companies with all-male boards to be leaders when ranked by revenue or profit. Research by Catalyst Corporation shows that Fortune 500 companies with the highest proportion of women in senior management significantly outperformed others with the lowest proportion in both return on equity and total shareholder return. Karen Lyness and Madeline Heilman reported in a study published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, that when women were promoted to upper-level management positions, they subsequently had higher performance ratings than men.

Researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland analyzed data on the top 1,500 U.S. companies from 1992 to 2006 to determine the relationship between firm performance and female participation in senior management. Companies that had women in top positions performed better. The same study ranked American industries by the proportion of firms that employed female executives and the bottom of the list reads like the ghosts of the economy past–shipbuilding, real estate, coal, steelworks and machinery.

What about the performance of women who do rise to senior leadership positions?

There’s evidence that female executives do more diligence than their male counterparts: A study by the Conference Board of Canada, found 72% of boards with 2 or more females conduct formal board performance evaluations, while 49% of all-male boards do. A study published by Harvard Business School found firms with female board members were more likely than companies with all-male boards to be leaders when ranked by revenue or profit. Research by Catalyst Corporation shows that Fortune 500 companies with the highest proportion of women in senior management significantly outperformed others with the lowest proportion in both return on equity and total shareholder return. Karen Lyness and Madeline Heilman reported in a study published in The Journal of Applied Psychology, that when women were promoted to upper-level management positions, they subsequently had higher performance ratings than men.

Yet the story is conflicting.

In a study by Manuela Barreto and her colleagues for the American Psychological Association in 2009, they concluded that while women have made progress, it has been incremental. A recent report by the Center for Work-Life Policy and the Concours Group notes that unless we are prepared to incorporate our talented, educated women into the leadership structure in greater numbers, we risk facing a serious drop in the quality of our professional workforce.

Pamela Stone’s in Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home, and Sylvia Ann Hewlett in Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success, argue that women are forced out of their careers by inhospitable workplaces, dominated by the masculine competitive model of organizations. They suggest this model may be at the root of preventing real diversity in the workplace from advancing.

Part of the problem at the senior leadership level may be the lack of sponsorship, says Vicki Salemi, writing in Psychology Today. She says, “sponsors advocate and facilitate critical career moves.” And many women leaders have not had the powerful sponsors to help them along that men have.

The issue that men and women lead differently because of biological differences and that men, some argue, are better suited to the role.

Ronald Riggio, writing in Psychology Today says “there is a growing body of research that has studied the leadership styles and leadership “potential” of men and women, typically men and women managers (but also women in non-managerial positions). For example, using the theory of transformational leadership as an indicator of successful leadership (transformational leaders are inspirational, positive role models, concerned about followers, empowering, and push followers to be creative and take chances), research shows that women, as a group, have more transformational qualities than men. In other words, and based on this research, women have more leadership potential and tend to lead more effectively than men.” Riggio goes on to argue that noted leadership scholar, Bernard Bass, predicted that by the year 2034 the majority of high-level leaders will be women, based on their more transformational qualities.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a study to determine the challenges faced by working women and published their findings in The Glass Ceiling: Domestic and international Perspectives. In addition to the challenge of finding an appropriate balance between work life and home life, the study also cited isolation and loneliness, as well as being a woman in a man’s world. Women tend to have to prove themselves to others, work harder and be better than male counterparts and very often have to ask for promotions, international assignments and other opportunities that may be offered to male peers

Should companies consider setting voluntary internal targets, and work consciously to increase the number of women on boards and as CEOs? Targets are not the same as affirmative action, the model used in the U.S. which establishes quotas to correct historical under representation of certain groups. That practice has actually led to backlash and the questioning of these groups” abilities. Some experts, such as Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Robin Ely, argue that a critical mass of women in senior leadership and on boards is required, and not at entry-level and mid-level positions. A recent study of corporate boards by the Wellesley Center for Women found that to have a critical mass of three or more women could cause fundamental change in the boardroom and enhance corporate governance. In 2002, Norway passed legislation, instructing publicly traded companies to have at least 40% female board members by mid-2005.

Dr. Kenneth Nowack examined research associated with gender differences in leadership styles. He concluded that women do indeed lead differently than men based on brain differences, socialization and hormones. More than 160 studies have shown that women tend to use more participative styles compared to men, and an additional review of over 80 studies found that men and women favor women leaders when the role requires high cooperation. Nowack cites research on the biological basis of empathy and trust among adults, with the general finding supporting the idea that changes in oxytocin in the brain is significantly associated with increased trust, collaboration, empathy and pro-social behavioral. Studies show that women in general have more pronounced levels of oxytocin.

Part of the problem with gender equity is men’s death grip on the image and role of a male that no longer fits our modern world and organizations. It’s as much a crisis of male identity that contributes to the glass ceiling as anything.

From once being seen as successful breadwinners, heads of families and being respected leaders, men today are the butt of jokes in the popular media. A Canadian research group,Nathanson and Young, conducted research on the changing role of men and media and concluded that widely popular TV programs such as The Simpsons present the father character, Homer, as lazy, chauvinistic, irresponsible, and stupid and his son, Bart, as mischievous, rude and cruel to his sister. By comparison, the mother and daughter are presented as thoughtful, considerate and mild-natured. The majority of TV shows and advertisements present men as stupid buffoons, or aggressive evil tyrants or insensitive and shallow “studs” for women’s pleasure.

According to J.R. Macnamara, in the book, Media and the Male Identity: The Making and Remaking of Men, less than 20% of media profiles reflected positive themes for men. Violent crimes, including murder, assault, and armed robberies accounted for over 55% of all media reporting of male activities. Macnamara says that over 30% of all discussion in the media of male sexuality was in relation to pedophilia, and males’ heterosexuality associated with masculinity is seen as violent, aggressive and dominating. Men are frequently shown in TV shows and movies as lacking in commitment in relationships and are shown as frequently cheating on women. And with increasing frequency, women are shown on TV shows and movies as being independent single mothers, not needing a man.

Guy Garcia, author of The Decline of Men: How The American Male is Tuning Out, Giving Up and Flipping Off His Future, argues that many men bemoan a “fragmentation of male identity,” in which husbands are asked to take on unaccustomed familial roles such as child care and housework, while wives bring in the bigger paychecks. “Women really have become the dominant gender,” says Garcia, “what concerns me is that guys are rapidly falling behind. Women are becoming better educated than men, earning more than men, and, generally speaking, not needing men at all. Meanwhile, as a group, men are losing their way.” Jeremy Adam Smith in his blog, “The Daddy Dialectic,” and Lisa Belkin in “Calling Mr. Mom.” argues that the empowerment of women now rests with society consciously empowering men to take on a greater role in caretaking.

Whether it is a cause or an outcome, the recession has been accompanied by movements toward social conservatism, with particular reference to political and social groups attempts at anti-abortion, anti-gay rights and restricting unemployment benefits, all of which have the most significant impact on women. So while gender equity has made some slow and significant progress in the last few decades, there’s clear evidence that we’ve taken some steps backward, and that men, hit the hardest by unemployment and their role in the family, are struggling to embrace a equitable role of their own.

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