The Costs of Racism for Black Women: The Concept of Weathering

I often wonder why so many of my black women friends have died so early. Specifically, I have had the joy of being a member of a black and white women’s support group for more than twenty-five years. During these years in our group of seven to nine members, all of the original white members remained healthy and three of the black members passed away. As a white woman, I not only miss my friends, but I have been bewildered by these differences in our mortality. Let me be clear—our members have very few differences in our backgrounds and life experiences other than race. We are all middle-class professional women raised in middle-class professional two-parent households. We are all college educated and about the same age. Race is what differentiates us. Recent studies on infant and maternal mortality in the United States reported in the New York Times Magazine by Linda Villarosa opened my eyes and gave me some language to explain what may have caused the early deaths of my black women friends. While none of the three women in our group died from causes related to maternity or childbirth, the findings in these studies seem to explain a lot more about health disparities between African American and white women than just higher rates of infant and maternal mortality. Infant and maternal mortality rates are, however, both shocking and what led researchers to their broader conclusions about the impact of race on health. Villarosa reports on several examples from recent studies:

  • Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—a racial disparity that is actually wider now than it was in 1850, fifteen years before the end of slavery.
  • Education and income offer little protection. A black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.
Villarosa cites seminal research by Dr. Arline Geronimus, published in 1992, that first linked stress and black infant mortality in her theory of weathering. Villarosa explains that Dr. Geronimus “believed that a kind of toxic stress triggered the premature deterioration of the bodies of African-American women as a consequence of repeated exposure to a climate of discrimination and insults”—in other words, the lived experience of race in this country. In 1997 a team of female researchers from Boston and Howard Universities expanded on earlier studies showing the health effects of racism. Villarosa reports that their research concluded that “the bone-deep accumulation of traumatizing life experiences and persistent insults” results in the sustained, long term release of stress hormones, which can lead to wear and tear on the cardiovascular, metabolic, and immune systems, making the body vulnerable to illness and even early death. This wear and tear is the process mentioned previously called weathering by Dr. Geronimus. In 2006, Dr. Geronimus and her colleagues found that, even when controlling for income and education, African American women had the highest levels of stress-associated body chemicals—higher than both white women and black men. The researchers concluded that “persistent racial differences in health may be influenced by the stress of living in a race-conscious society. These effects may be felt particularly by black women because of [the] double jeopardy of gender and racial discrimination.” Deeply ingrained stereotypes about women and people of color are literally killing black women. I recently saw a sign that said “White Silence Is Violence.” As a white woman, I urge other whites to take action:
  • Become aware of the deeply ingrained stereotypes in our society about people of color.
  • Become aware of our own unconscious bias and white privilege and talk with other white people about what you are learning.
  • Watch for and speak out when you see discrimination or unfair treatment of a person in any minority group.
Change starts with each of us, and our society will change when we change.   Photo courtesy of James Palinsad (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

Good News: Three Strategies That Are Changing Attitudes toward Women

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.” Miller reports that Getty Images found that over the past decade, from 2007 to 2017, the most sold images for the search term “women” have evolved from photos of naked, or nearly naked, models to photos of women demonstrating physical or professional prowess where their appearance isn’t the point. According to Miller, Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images, explains that the top selling image in 2017 for the search term “woman” was of a woman hiking a rocky trail in Banff National Park, alone, on the edge of a cliff. Grossman notes that this is an image about power, freedom, and trusting yourself. The woman in this image is wearing a down jacket and a wool cap, and her face isn’t visible. The message of this image is what’s important is not what you look like but what you are doing. This is an empowering message for women and girls. We should also note that the most downloaded images, though, are of young Caucasian women. “You cannot be what you cannot see” is the unofficial tagline of the collection of stock photos called the Lean In collection at Getty Images. Miller explains that a large collection of fourteen thousand stock photos was developed in 2014 by Getty Images in collaboration with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In nonprofit organization. Their goal was “to seed media with more modern, diverse and empowering images of women.” Miller notes that of the fifteen most downloaded images in the Lean In collection,

  • four are of fathers playing with children
  • four are of girls and women involved in science and engineering
  • four are of women in business or school settings
  • three are of women athletes
Having these more diverse images available to the public has helped shift cultural attitudes about gender in the media. In addition, social media pressure on large corporations to include empowering messages about women in their advertising, rather than showing women as sex objects to sell products, is starting to have an impact. My heart soars every time I see the General Electric (GE) ads on television showing women and girls being celebrated as scientists and engineers. Government regulations can help, too. Miller explains that in 2017, “Britain’s advertising regulator announced rules banning ads that promote gender stereotypes, sexually objectify women or promote unhealthy body images.” We could do this in the United States, too. We can all positively change attitudes about women. Here are some easy strategies:
  • Pressure companies to promote healthy and empowering images of women and girls using social media. You can start a campaign on social media.
  • Demand that legislators support laws and regulations that promote healthy and empowering messages about girls and women. You can organize this kind of pressure at the local or state level, and you can run for office yourself to accomplish these goals.
  • Volunteer with a nonprofit that is working to advance the empowerment of women and girls.
If we all get involved, we can make a difference. What are you doing to make a difference? Photo courtesy of WOCinTech Chat (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Women in the Military: Cracking the “Brass Ceiling”—Winning a Battle, but Not the War

The announcement by the Obama administration at the end of 2015 that all combat roles in the military will be open to women is indeed a victory for women. This opens 220,000 jobs previously closed to women. While I wish we lived in a world without war where we did not need a military, that is not the world we are in, and I am happy that the women who want combat roles and military careers are now able to have access to them. Women in the military have long felt that the official restrictions on them having combat roles were unfair. While they have been allowed to serve in combat zones, until now they were not allowed to officially hold the combat positions required for career advancement. This change is part of a long march to inclusion by the military, starting in 1948 with racial integration and continuing in 2011 with lifting the ban on gays in the military. Why do I say that this change wins a battle but not the war? Mariette Kalinowski, a former Marine, writes in the New York Times that while the “brass ceiling” is cracked, it is not gone because the military culture of hypermasculinity has not yet changed. She notes that the system is still stacked against women because of attitudes and beliefs by the older male leaders in charge. Dave Philipps of the New York Times cites Lt. Col. Kate Germano who agrees that the Marines, who are still 93 percent male, in particular “have a climate of non-inclusivity and justify it by talking about combat effectiveness, but a lot of it is based on emotion and not fact.” Elliot Ackerman further supports this position by noting that “the focus by the Marine Corps on physical fitness avoids the real barrier to integration—the hypermasculine culture at its heart.”

What Are the Benefits of Integrating Women in the Military?

  • Dave Philipps points out that not only did a recent Marine Corps study find that there is no detriment to the morale in mixed-gender combat groups, but gender-integrated groups excelled at complex decision making.
  • Philipps also reports the same study found that while women scored lower on many physical tasks, they scored higher on mental resilience and had fewer mental health problems.
  • Kalinowski suggests that a benefit of gender integration in the military, which must include a change in the culture, could be a reduced risk of sexual harassment and assault. She posits that because discrimination and rape are tools of dominance and control, removing the source of the control by changing from a hypermasculine to a gender-inclusive culture will cause the source of the motivation to keep the status quo in place to disappear. In addition, she suggests this change could result in a lower incidence of sexual violence in the larger society.
Kalinsky notes, “We’re up against a quiet, strong prejudice that has everything to do with our biological ability to create life, and nothing to do with our willingness and ability as soldiers.” The decision by the Pentagon to open all combat roles to women is an important next step, but this war is not yet won. Let’s keep looking for ways to support women in the military.   “FET: Female Marines Build Relationships in Helmand” by DVIDSHUB is licensed under CC BY 2.0]]>

Melinda Gates: The First Woman of Women

I found it inspiring to read in Forbes magazine that Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has decided to put women and girls at the center of her focus to end poverty in the world. Other philanthropists and bankers (such as Muhammad Yunus, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for microloan practices that target women) have shown that investing in women results in significant improvement in the standard of living for families and communities. Caroline Howard writes in Forbes that Melinda Gates, who has $41.3 billion in foundation assets to invest, “has become the most powerful person on the planet whose singular focus is women and girls.” Gates explains that in looking for a woman who would champion issues of poverty for girls and women for the Gates Foundation, she eventually realized that she herself was the best person to do it. Her passion comes from knowing that

  • Women account for six out of ten of the world’s poorest people.
  • Women account for two-thirds of the illiterate population.
  • 58 percent of all primary school dropouts are girls. One year or more of primary school boosts a girl’s future wages by 10–20 percent.
  • The International Monetary Fund calculates that 3.9 million women and girls are “missing” annually: about two-fifths are never born; one-sixth die in early childhood; more than one-third die during their reproductive years.
  • 289,000 women died during pregnancy and childbirth in 2013.
  • Closing the employment and wage gap between men and women would increase women’s income by $17 trillion globally.
Gates sponsors a range of initiatives to alleviate poverty for women and girls that are all connected, such as
  • Family planning
  • Maternal and prenatal health
  • Infant health
  • Education
  • Microentrepreneurship
What can you do? The Gates Foundation is well funded, but there are many smaller foundations that are focused on alleviating poverty for girls and women in the developing world. These foundations need donations and volunteers to support their work. My favorite foundation is VGIF (Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund), and I encourage you to go to the Fund’s website and read about its work at A lot needs to be done for girls and women. Do you know of any foundations doing similar work? Let me know in the comments section.   Photo courtesy of Russell Watkins/Department for International Development (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

CFO: One Role Where Women Make More Than Men

The recent focus on the gender-wage gap has raised awareness for several young women in my life who are clear that they do not want to be paid less than men for doing the same work. Do you know a young woman who is looking for a career where women make more than men? According to Sarah Skidmore Sell of the Orange County Register there is one: CFO (chief financial officer). The high pay for women CFOs is not due to women outnumbering men in the position—a recent survey found only 60 female CFOs at S&P 500 companies compared to 437 men. Sell reports that “the median pay for female CFOs last year rose 11 percent to $3.32 million. Male CFO pay rose 7 percent to $3.3 million.” Sell also acknowledges that the high median pay for female CFOs is partly a result of their small number and tendency to work for the largest companies, where compensation is higher than at smaller companies. Nonetheless, with all the emphasis these days on encouraging girls and women to consider training for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, focusing on a finance career is another good option—and why aim for the top as a CFO? The CFO role has risen in importance since the financial crisis, when companies became aware of the need for a high-level role focused on both day-to-day operations and the long-term strategic view as the right-hand person to the CEO and the board. The CFO role is also now considered an excellent training ground for advancement to CEO.

Tips for Becoming a CFO

Carol Lippert Gray of the Journal of Accountancy notes that “there is no clear-cut path to the CFO suite,” but you can acquire skills and experiences to become CFO-qualified. Robert Half, of Robert Half Finance and Accounting, recommends the following steps to prepare yourself for a CFO role:
  1. Become a CPA (certified public accountant) or earn an MBA—or do both. A CPA license will give you training in a wide range of skills, including forensic accounting and compliance. An MBA will increase your understanding of business operations.
  2. Widen your customer service experience.
  3. Broaden your understanding of technology.
  4. Position yourself as a team builder and consensus seeker, which will encourage people to trust your judgment.
  5. Consider comptroller and treasurer positions, both of which can increase your experience with funding and strategy execution in preparation for CFO duties.
CFOs report high levels of satisfaction with their role. The journey to get there is long, but CFO could be a great career goal.   Photo courtesy of Financial Times (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

Why It Matters That Boards Are Not Diverse

I just read some surprising statistics about the lack of diversity on corporate boards and why this matters. Stick with me on this topic. This information explains a lot, and I promise it will give you new perspective on why the glass ceiling stays in place for women and minorities—and what needs to change.

The Big Picture

I live in Massachusetts where a combination of universities, foundations, and local news organizations have come together to put a spotlight on the lack of diversity on the boards of publicly traded Massachusetts companies. Research reported by the Boston Fund and the Boston Globe in late 2015 showed the following:
  • 80 percent of directors of publicly traded companies in Massachusetts are white men, while white men make up only 36 percent of of the state’s population.
  • Minorities make up 7 percent of directors and are 26 percent of the population.
  • Women make up 16 percent of the directors (and some of these are also women of color), yet make up 50 percent of the population.
These figures compare to national surveys showing that women and minorities make up 26.7 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies, while the boards of small and midsize are firms generally much less diverse. Boards play a critical role in guiding organizations and are not just rubber stamps. They are in charge of hiring and firing CEOs, ratifying key decisions and setting long-term direction and policies. Yet when boards are not diverse, they are not providing the best possible leadership for organizations. A recent study of 2,000 companies by Wake Forest University found that companies with more diverse boards pay higher dividends and enjoy more stable stock prices. So why are boards so slow to diversify? The answers may surprise you.

Turnover Is Low on Boards

One of the answers to the question of why boards are slow to diversify is that turnover is very slow. In fact Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe explains:
  • Turnover of corporate board seats in Massachusetts is only 7 percent per year because there are no term or age limits for most board seats. This is also true nationally, and many directors stay in their seats for decades.
  • The incumbent white men do not want to give up their seats. Why would they? The median pay for corporate directors was $258,000 per year in 2014 for fewer than five hours of work per week. In addition, the pay for directors has risen faster than the wages for average workers.

Why the Impact on the Glass Ceiling Is High

The impact of boards that are not diverse on the glass ceiling for women and minorities is high: only 3–4 percent of corporate CEOs nationally are women, and only five Fortune 500 CEOs are black. Making this link between the lack of diversity on boards and the glass ceiling was an eye-opener for me, but think about it. Boards are responsible for hiring CEOs and they may well be overlooking talented women and minorities for CEO roles. Studies show that people tend to hire people who look like them and with whom they feel most comfortable. It’s a vicious cycle. Boards need to become more diverse in order to be more open to hiring women and minorities in CEO roles, yet you must be a current or past CEO to be considered qualified for most director seats. Because there are so few women and minority CEOs to draw from, boards continue to lack diversity, and the glass ceiling stays in place. One author recently proposed that the solution is term limits for directors so that seats can open and be filled by more women and minorities. Boards will also need to expand their criteria for eligibility to talented individuals who may not yet be CEOs to fill these seats as they open. As is happening now in Massachusetts, these changes are only going to occur if there is a lot of public pressure. What can you do? Here are some suggestions:
  • Write to your local newspaper and explain why diversifying corporate boards is important.
  • Write to your legislator and demand that laws be passed to require boards to diversify.
  • Educate your friends and neighbors about the need for boards to diversify.
  • If you are an investor, exercise your vote or write about your concerns to the companies you have invested in.
Let’s make our voices heard!   Image courtesy of stockimages at]]>

Women Are Better Managers Than Men

A recent Gallup study reports that while only one in three (33 percent) working Americans report that they currently have a female boss, female managers outscore male managers on eleven out of twelve measures of engagement. The study found that the employees of female managers are more engaged, as are the female managers themselves. These results hold true for female managers of every working-age generation, regardless of whether the female managers have children in their households. Why is engagement important? Employee engagement is now widely recognized as a significant contributor to company performance. Ryan Fuller writes in the Harvard Business Review that there is general agreement that increased engagement drives results. However, Gallup reports that only 30 percent of American workers and 13 percent of global workers are engaged in their jobs. These findings have important implications for organizational success, and given the higher engagement scores for female managers, one would think that organizations would be eager to promote more women. Here are some of the dimensions of engagement where employees report higher engagement scores for female managers:

  • Encourages employee development by cultivating potential
  • Checks in frequently on employee progress and gives regular feedback
  • Gives recognition and praise for doing good work, which provides positive feedback and helps employees feel valued
  • Sets clear expectations, builds relationships, and encourages a positive team environment

Four Tips for Successful Promotions

It would be good for US companies to increase the number of women managers in order to improve their productivity. At the same time, companies need to position both women and men for success when they promote them. Here are four suggestions from the Education Advisory Board to keep in mind for successful managerial promotions:
  1. Promote based on talent. This means that individuals who have demonstrated skills and results rather than simple longevity, should be chosen for promotion.
  2. Make sure that the person fits the role. Too often, individuals are promoted in organizations as a reward for performance in a different role without preparation for a managerial role.
  3. Do not tie salaries to position titles. People who are high performers in a role or function should have higher pay. Too often, the only way for high performers to receive a higher salary is to apply for a management role that may not be the best fit for them.
  4. Keep developing managers. Managing people is challenging, and companies should continuously invest in the development of their managers.
These findings are more good news about the value that women can add to organizations as managers and leaders!   Image courtesy of stockimages at]]>

Does Professional Part-Time Work Exist?

A coaching client of mine, the mother of a young child, recently asked me, “Where are the professional part-time jobs for experienced workers like me?” I think this is a good question. This client, we’ll call her Sandy, has graduate degrees in software engineering and business development along with more than ten years of work experience. After the birth of her child, she went back to work full-time, returning to a sixty-hour workweek. She worked hard in a job that didn’t play to her strengths, and after about a year she was passed over for a promotion she had been expecting. Sandy was frustrated and unhappy and decided to step out of her corporate job. She and her husband agreed that their young child needed more parenting time, she wanted more time with her child, and she felt there must be work options available where her talents and wisdom would be appreciated and where a more reasonable and flexible work schedule was available. Sandy wanted to work, but she found nothing that allowed her to use her skills and experience on a part-time basis. This is a common story for many, if not most, professional women who want to stay engaged with their professions, contribute to the family income, and be available as parents. I was heartened to read about a new and innovative job placement service that fits this bill, but is still small and in a start-up phase. In an article in the New York Times, Katherine Rosman writes about a job placement service called the Second Shift, started by two women, friends and mothers, who lamented the lack of options for the talented and experienced mothers in their children’s play groups. They formed a membership-based company whose purpose is to “pair mothers who left professional careers with companies looking to hire consultants and freelancers for individual projects.” While their company is focused only on women with experience in finance and marketing, it has placed forty-five women in project-based jobs, with three hundred women signed up as members, and five hundred more in the process of applying for membership. The Second Shift is a great example of what is possible and much needed. Some advantages of this model for organizations and for mothers are as follows:

  1. Companies can tap into an experienced pool of professional workers who are hard to locate.
  2. Companies can bring in experience and wisdom for short-term intensive projects and add diversity to their teams.
  3. Women can keep control of their schedules and make time for their families.
  4. Women can maintain active engagement with their professions so that their skills and resumes stay updated in preparation for a return to full-time work when their children are grown.
  5. Companies can reduce the long-term expense of benefits for permanent workers by hiring temporary professional workers, even though the hourly or project-based fees may seem high.
We need more of these types of matching services in more sectors for mothers, and the growing number of fathers, who choose to be available to their families and also want to be professionally engaged. Are there professional part-time options out there that you know about? We’d love to hear what you know.   Photo courtesy of Matthew Trinneer (CC BY-SA 3.0)]]>

What About Men?

When I make presentations to audiences of women and men about my research on women in organizations, they often ask me, “What about men? What’s happening for them?”  Recent studies, reported by Richard V. Reeves and Isabel V. Sawhill, reveal some important changes for men in the United States workforce.  Specifically, Reeves and Sawhill note, “the old economy and the old model of masculinity are obsolete.” While women have been pushing, for the most part successfully, into previously traditionally male roles, men have not been pushing into traditionally female roles.  Because the jobs that men used to do are largely disappearing, men either need to adapt and move into the female-dominated HEAL (health, education, administration, and literacy) jobs, or men will have fewer and fewer prospects for participating in the labor market.  The thirty fastest-growing occupations are currently in the HEAL sectors.  The only obstacles to men entering these occupations are culture and attitude—men aren’t training or applying for these “pink collar” jobs. Here are some recent trends that do not bode well for men if they do not adapt and change:

  • Male wages are stagnant and, among the less educated, have fallen. Median earnings for men with only a high school diploma have fallen by 28 percent since 1980.
  • Men are now a minority on college campuses, accounting for 42 percent of graduates.
  • Girls demonstrate more focus, effort, and self-discipline as well as better study habits starting in the early grades, and, consequently, they have higher grades.
The authors note that what is needed is a “cultural recalibration” for men.  Many men are retreating into violent “hypermasculinity” in order to try to hold on to their old competitive edge over women.  Instead, we need campaigns that encourage men to see themselves in HEAL jobs the same way that campaigns currently encourage girls and women to see themselves in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs.  We need to balance participation and opportunity across all the sectors for both women and men. This cultural recalibration also needs to include adaptation by men on the home front.  In households where two parents work outside of the home, men are doing more childcare and housework than in the past, but not as much as they think they are doing.  Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times cites several rigorous studies of the division of labor for opposite-sex, dual-earner couples across the transition to parenthood.  While the division of labor for housework showed no gender gap before children, a significant gap emerged after birth.  While men in two-income families reported that they shared housework and childcare equally after birth, analysis of rigorous time studies showed that women shouldered much more responsibility at home.  This extra work for women, in addition to holding a full-time job, creates pressure and stress that can push them out of the workforce.  Miller cites the work of Paula England and others who note, “the gender revolution has largely been one-sided—women have entered traditionally male jobs but men have been reluctant to take on traditionally female activities.” Reeves and Sawhill sum up the challenges for men as follows:
“The way forward, we believe, is for men to embrace and adapt to the new, more androgynous world.  There is no point in harking back.  The world in which high-paid manufacturing jobs could support a family, and where women were expected to focus on being wives and mothers is gone.  Women have shown they are ready for this transition.  But what about men?”
  Image courtesy of stockimages at]]>

Gender Equality and Population Growth: What China and Europe Need to Know

China’s recent announcement that more families will be allowed to have a second child ended the one-child policy in effect in China since 1980. When the one-child policy was implemented, China’s leaders were desperate to control their population’s growth. With 1.2 billion people, or one-quarter of the world’s population, and a third-world economy, they worried that they could not continue to feed everyone and improve the standard of living for all Chinese people if they didn’t slow the rate of population growth. They succeeded on all counts, and now, thirty-five years later, as the second-largest economy in the world, China is facing a problem that many European countries are also facing—aging populations and not enough babies to replace or support them. But studies show that passing laws to encourage higher birthrates are not particularly effective. Steven Erlanger of the New York Times notes that countries with healthy birthrates have the following social forces engaged:

  • Gender equality
  • Trust within society
  • Immigration by people of childbearing age
Because China has none of these social forces in effect, their fertility rate is not likely to go up very much, and they are likely to face population-aging problems on a scale never before seen. What has gender equality got to do with higher fertility rates? The Nordic countries of Europe, along with France, were able to reverse their birthrates after they hit a low point in the 1960s and 1970s. Erlanger explains that the birthrates went up “because of social policies and attitudes in those countries promoting gender equality,” including paid parental leave and childcare support. In other Western European countries—like Germany, who did not institute these policies—the birthrates are still very low. One example of the impact of social policies on birthrates of is offered by Professor Francesco Billari of Oxford University, cited by Erlanger in his article. Billari uses Italy as an example where the trends have reversed between the richer North and the poorer South because of differences in social policy. The fertility rate is now higher in Northern Italy where women have more gender equality and job opportunities than in the South. Women in the poorer South, where there is high unemployment, more traditional gender-based divisions of labor, and “lack of female participation in the labor force,” are having fewer children than in the past. Russia, Central Europe, and East Asia are other examples of low birthrate countries and regions where there is a lack of gender equality, small numbers of working women, and few social policies to support working families. Professor Billari goes on to note that social policy that promotes gender equality and support for working families “has to be pushed by a society that is ready for it or demands it from politicians.” Especially during this election cycle, let’s demand that our politicians do more to promote gender equality and support working families!   Image provided courtesy of arztsamui at]]>