research reported in the Harvard Business Review dispels several commonly held myths about the lack of equity in advancement for women and why so few women are in senior management. Here are three of the myths:
Myth #1: Women fail to achieve equality because they take themselves off the career track to have children.
Myth #2: Women value careers less than men.
Myth #3: Having children makes employees less reliable, less driven, and less creative.
In their study of 25,000 MBAs over three generations (baby boomers, generation Xers, and millennials) of graduates from the Harvard Business School, the authors found the following:
- Only 11 percent of generation X and boomer women with children under eighteen were out of the workforce full time to care for children. The figure is 7 percent for women of color.
- Both women and men expressed the same amount of ambition upon graduation from the MBA program across the three generations.
- Both women and men in senior management teams were likely to have made career decisions to accommodate family responsibilities, and they were still able to perform at a level sufficient to achieve senior management positions.
So, why do men achieve more success in their careers? As Lisa Miller of New York Magazine
put it, “Most women work full-time through their child-rearing years, and yet they achieve less than men at work because, well, they’re women.” In other words, both workplace cultures and societal attitudes—not the choices women make—are responsible for women achieving less. The following story demonstrates how workplace and societal attitudes may be impacting women’s careers:
I have a coaching client, June, who has been driven to be a senior leader since she was a small child. She always earned good grades, completed two advanced professional degrees, and worked hard. Although she worked for two major corporations, she was not able to get the challenging assignments or promotions that she desired and felt ready to accomplish. She was frustrated and unhappy at work. When her son was born, he provided an excuse to step out of the corporate world, which did not seem to value her. She and her husband agreed that she would stay home full time with their son, although that had never been her plan. She explained that she would never have left her full-time position if she felt that challenging opportunities were available to her. She still longed for meaningful work, but the part-time opportunities available to her were neither interesting nor demanding, and she was growing more unhappy by the day.
June’s story reflects the impact of the three myths about women and work. While June did value having a career, she may not have been considered for challenging assignments or advancement because she was of childbearing age, and she was assumed to be less committed to a career. None of this was actually true for June, and her company unnecessarily lost a bright and talented worker.
What can organizations do to keep talented women and men? Here are five tips:
- Discard the myth that women don’t value careers; provide opportunities for their advancement and development, even when they are in their childbearing years.
- Provide a way back into full-time work for women and men who use family leave time or flex time when starting a family.
- Provide meaningful and challenging part-time work opportunities for both women and men who want to cut back for awhile when they start a family, but who do not intend to step off their career path.
- Stop punishing (by judging harshly) women and men for wanting to share family responsibilities and temporarily requesting flex-time and part-time work.
- Support couples in being equal partners and sharing family responsibilities.
But wait! There’s more! Read about more interesting findings from this myth-breaking research next week in Part II.]]>