In business and in politics, few women have made it to the top—none in politics in the United States, as seen with Hillary Clinton’s recent loss in the 2016 presidential race. And Catalyst reports that the percentage of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies has been stuck at 5 percent for a very long time. Why has there been so little progress?
Several high-profile cases in the news in recent months seem to reflect attitudes about the treatment of women changing for the better in Silicon Valley. These are the most notable examples:
- Dave McClure, the founder of the start-up incubator 500 Startups, resigned after admitting to sexual harassment. Later investigation revealed that the company had covered up an earlier sexual harassment charge against him by keeping the investigation confidential.
- Binary Capital imploded after several women lodged sexual harassment charges against Justin Caldbeck.
- Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned after former company engineer Susan Fowler published a blog detailing a history of sexual harassment at Uber.
When my cousin’s daughter was five or six years old, she was obsessed with becoming a professional baseball player. She would only wear a baseball uniform, including a baseball cap for her favorite team, and was rarely without her catcher’s mitt. It broke my heart to know that she would never be able to realize her dream because she was female. That was a long time ago, but not much has changed for women in professional baseball. For this reason, I found it inspiring to read about two women who are pioneers in the sport: Jessica Mendoza and Claire Smith. They are ESPN baseball analysts and journalists who are battling sexism in the sport to have their talents recognized. My niece never had a chance to see women in these roles when she was young. While not in center field, sports analysts and journalists are still important roles.
There is good news on the horizon about gender stereotypes in the media. I wrote in my book New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together about the power media images have to reinforce negative stereotypes of women as sex objects. These images communicate that the only thing that matters about women and girls is their appearance. There are still too many images of women as sex objects in advertising, but Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports on an exciting new study from Getty Images, a major supplier of stock photos that appear in ads, on billboards, and in blogs. Stock photos are important, Miller explains, because they “reflect the culture at a moment in time.”
As a member of the hiring committee of a nonprofit’s board of trustees, I recently worked with an executive search firm to fill a CEO vacancy in the organization. The search firm representative asked us if we wanted to screen out women over fifty from the candidate pool. We were surprised and asked, “Why would we?” The reply was, “Most of our clients won’t consider hiring women over fifty, and we don’t want to waste your time or ours by including them if you want us to screen them out.” Wow! This question was asked quietly, since it is illegal to discriminate based on age, but it was asked because this dynamic is so prevalent.
For some time now, technology companies have acknowledged that women are underrepresented in their companies in technology and leadership positions. Both large and small companies in Silicon Valley have publicly announced their intentions to increase the representation of women and minorities in their ranks, yet not much progress has been made.
United States Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California has become a heroine to many of us, especially millennials, since she stood up for her principles and refused to attend President Trump’s inauguration or his first speech to Congress. Her willingness to speak honestly about her values and beliefs has won the respect of people in all age groups. As Sarah D. Wire reports for the Los Angeles Times, Waters explained that she doesn’t honor this president because of “his insulting comments about former presidential rivals Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton, the lewd ‘Access Hollywood’ video in which he bragged about grabbing women and his mocking imitation of a disabled reporter.” In addition, Lottie L. Joiner of Crisis Magazine reports that Waters is determined to do what she can to stop Trump’s agenda of undermining African American contributions to our democracy.
An important new study of online conversations among economists by Alice H. Wu quantifies “outright hostility toward women in parts of the economics profession,” reports Justin Wolfers of the New York Times. Wu reported the findings from her award-winning senior thesis research paper at the University of California, Berkeley. Her paper is prompting urgent conversations among leading economists around the country.
Wolfers notes that, while the underrepresentation of women in the economics departments of top universities is well known, claims about workplace culture as the culprit have been hard to measure. People are guarded about publicly revealing their attitudes toward female economists. Wu developed new uses of technology to reveal hidden misogyny.
Research indicates that pay transparency does result in smaller pay gaps. At the very least, if employees are aware of pay discrepancies in the company, women and people of color can confidently negotiate for higher salaries than those offered. But most companies keep salary information secret and are not transparent. That is why the step taken by employees at Google is so important—they took matters into their own hands to create transparency.
Progress has been very slow for women’s advancement in law firms. Why is this the case? As Elizabeth Olson of the New York Times reports, women are
- Slightly over 50 percent of current law school graduates (and have been for a long time)
- Under 35 percent of lawyers at law firms
- Only 20 percent of equity partners, where the highest compensation and best opportunities for leadership exist
Olson cites a recent study by Anne Urda of Law360 that found that “only nine of 300 firms surveyed had a lawyer work force that was 50 percent or more female.”