There's room for women at the top of America's corporations, but it's not as cushy as it is for men, and it is considerably harder on women's family life.
More than 90 percent of senior corporate men are married, while less than 70 percent of senior corporate women are. Moreover, women, far more than men, feel that they will be penalized in their career advancement if they take advantage of such family-friendly policies as child care, maternity leave, flexible scheduling, job sharing and telecommuting.
These are among the findings of a study that has been done by the Business and Professional Women Foundation and the American Management Association.
The first phase of the study held good news for women and minorities: Companies that had women and minorities in their top ranks outperformed companies that were headed exclusively by white men. That phase of the study was done in 1998 and covered corporate growth trends in 1996 and 1997. More than 1,000 managers and executives from companies that are members of the management association were asked to submit profiles of their senior management teams and report on their organizations' performance. Firms with a majority of women on their senior management teams experienced a 22.9 percent growth in sales, compared with a 12.6 percent growth in firms with male-only teams. Organizations that had some women on their management teams experienced a 5.6 percent growth in market share, more than twice the 2.6 percent increase of male-only teams.
These findings illustrate what women and women's organizations have been arguing for more than a decade: Diversity is good business. It allows senior managers to focus on populations or market shares they might otherwise overlook. Managers of different genders and ethnic backgrounds can broaden the range of products and services a company offers. The wisdom of this has never been truer than in the global market economy of today. Sixty-six percent of the firms with some women at the top reported an increase in net profit, while only 59 percent of the male-led firms did. Smaller companies, which showed greater diversity in top management, reported higher growth rates than larger companies.
"To women, it's obvious," says Gail Shaffer, the chief executive officer of Business and Professional Women USA and its foundation. "Women make the majority of household decisions, and in many cases they are the majority of shareholders in these corporations, but they have been excluded from the top leadership of the Fortune 500 companies. Only 11 percent of board members are women. Corporate America has been slow to catch up with these trends."
Forty million viewers watched the U.S. women's soccer team win the World Cup, giving ABC a 13.3 overnight rating, which broke the soccer rating record set by the 1994 men's World Cup. "We see a U.S. women's soccer team get all this attention that corporate broadcasters would never have anticipated. But viewers and sports fans were tremendously interested," Shaffer says.
The second phase of the study looked at compensation and benefits. Women's compensation packages generally cover only salaries, and women are far less likely than their male counterparts to command items such as stock options and bonuses. Moreover, the study found that while benefits such as flextime, telecommuting and maternity leave were far more important to women than to men, women also were far more concerned about harming their careers by using these. Companies, Shaffer says, "may have policies on paper that look like real progress, but if the corporate culture sends a message that they will be penalized by accessing them, then it's just lip service."
"When you combine the two surveys, what it says to corporate America is that the savvy firms are going to understand that diversity at the top is in their self-interest in a very bottom-line way. Yet they have to look at what they are doing or not doing that is going to make them more apt to attract and retain the people they need to achieve that diversity. Men are not facing those trade-offs. Companies should be adopting the kinds of policies that will enable them to attract the best and brightest women and minorities to their work force."
The survey also found that pay inequity is even bigger at the top of the heap than it is for typical working women, who now make roughly 74 cents for every dollar men make. The average base compensation for males in the survey was $93,947; for women, it was $65,418, which put them at 69.6 percent of male earnings. The good news is that their salaries have increased at a faster rate than men's since 1990.
"Throughout every sector of the work force, women are undervalued," Shaffer says, pointing to the case of the female scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who discovered that across the board, they were being paid less than men in the same department who had less experience and fewer publications. "Women are so often not aware they are being underpaid, but it is a pattern that is very widespread."
These two surveys make two points that corporations can do something about: Women at the top are good for business, but business needs to alter the culture at the top so that women feel as welcome as men. This means developing a corporate culture that is committed to supporting them in balancing work and family life. For a whole lot of women, having to trade marriage and children for a career in senior management is not an appealing deal.