Since President Obama delivered his State of the Union address on January 28th, there’s been a lot of back and forth on whether women really earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn…how that number was arrived at…and whether it’s the right stat to be bandying around. To my mind, it’s a distractor. No matter how you slice it, women earn less than men (with the highest number I’ve seen at 81 cents).
As someone whose job and passion it is to help women navigate corporate America, I have a bigger concern—a concern that we have to get to the underlying reasons why inequity exists, not just inequity in pay, but inequity in opportunity. And, of course, they’re linked.
To start, both women and their organizations benefit when more women are at the top levels of corporations. Women account for 54% of the workforce, but for only 14% of top positions. The consequences of this disparity are monumentally damaging

  • Being sorely absent from C-suite positions, also makes women sorely absent from the highest salaries, bonuses and perks that come with these positions. Additionally, women tend to be in roles that do not have bottom line responsibilities. Traditionally, these positions pay less, are valued less and lead to top jobs less often. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Corporations are missing out on the “higher intelligence” decision making that comes when there is a heterogeneous grouping in C-suites and on Boards. As I’ve said before, research has shown that teams that include women, have smarter and more innovative approaches to solving problems and grasping opportunities. It’s not that women are smarter. It’s that diverse groups with women in them ARE.

Working with many of the world’s leading organizations and many of their most talented women, I see that the days of deliberate discrimination are largely gone. Instead, there is a more subtle, and because it is less obvious, a sometimes more insidious staller of women’s careers and opportunities.

I have come to call it “gender fatigue” and it’s pervasive.

  • There is gender fatigue on the part of organizations who believe they are doing the right thing hiring more women, only to find them leaving in large numbers at the mid-career stage. Possible solution: organizations need to more actively combat the ennui and frustration that women feel at mid-career level when they begin to sense the inevitable—that their careers are stalled in place.
  • There is gender fatigue on the part of women who enter the workplace optimistic that their opportunities are the same as their male counterparts only to “wake up” and realize that, despite their talents, they have been passed over, underpaid and overlooked. We still hear in our programs that women are frustrated because doing a good job—even an outstanding job– is not enough to advance their careers. Possible solution: women at all levels (most especially mid-career) must develop and use the mentors, the networks and the competencies that will transform them into powerful leaders who cannot be ignored.
  • There is gender fatigue on the part of male managers who are trying to do the right thing, but often don’t understand that women’s corporate experiences are different from men’s and therefore their view of the organization is different. Possible solution: A greater willingness to support their female subordinates and to acknowledge and combat possible hidden perceptions such as feelings that women will leave to start a family… or that business relationships with women may be misconstrued.

So let’s move past the 77 cents debate…focus instead on another quote from the President’s State of the Union Address… and make it our individual and corporate call to action:

“When women succeed, America succeeds.”

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.