Opinion

Editorial

Accelerating Pace of Progress for Women

Years ago — maybe 10, 15, or 20 of them — when BusinessWest would write about women in business, the tone seemed more positive than what appears today in the stories starting on page 49.
And that’s understandable, because judging from the opinions offered by women business leaders and those in academia attuned to these issues, it would appear that the pace of progress has definitely slowed.
Women haven’t gone backward, say those we spoke with about issues ranging from pay equity to the number of women occupying the CEO’s office, but they don’t seem to moving forward at the pace they were in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. We theorize that a big part of the reason for this is that, while the gains made in those preceding decades certainly didn’t come easy — as those who paved those roads would attest — the work still being done would seem far more challenging in comparison.
This is borne out in some current statistics regarding issues involving women in the workplace and the political arena. Indeed, even though women make up almost 50% of the workforce today and hold almost 52% of managerial positions in professional occupations, there are 17 female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, only 3.6%, and when one includes Fortune 1000 companies, there are still only 35 female CEOs.
Meanwhile, statistics show that, in 2010, females who worked full-time made 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. This inequity often starts at the time they are hired, and the disparity translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime of work and retirement. And in the political arena, the U.S. ranks 75th among the world’s countries in the percentage of women in political office, behind such nations as Indonesia, Bosnia, and the Dominican Republic.
There are many reasons why women lag behind men in these areas, including the fact that many women trying to balance work and family are simply not willing to make the sacrifices — especially time away from their young children— that are necessary to reach the very top rungs in business and public service. But there’s far more to it than that. Many women still lack the confidence, assertiveness, and, overall, the ability to promote themselves, their talents, and their accomplishments, to reach as high as they may dare to reach.
Which is why we’re encouraged by many programs across the region addressing these issues. They include an intriguing new initiative at Bay Path College called WELL (Women as Empowered Learners and Leaders), which the school’s president, Carol Leary, says is designed to create a learning environment where students can “test and enhance their leadership skills” (BusinessWest, Feb. 27, 2012).
There’s also LIPPI, the Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact, started by the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts to inspire more women to seek civic leadership roles — and give them the skills and confidence needed to succeed in that realm. Another new initiative is Leadership Pioneer Valley, inspired by the region’s Plan for Progress and its conclusion that Western Mass. needs to groom new legions of young leaders, men and women.
These efforts and others may help eventually push the needle of progress forward at a faster and pronounced pace by empowering women, providing that critical element of confidence, and reinforcing the notion that there is a gender gap that should have been closed long ago.
There will always be hurdles facing women looking to start and grow a business, move up the corporate ranks, or hold public office — especially that exceedingly high one involving the phenomenon known as work/life balance. Women struggle mightily to succeed in both realms, but many mange to do so, mostly out of a combination of determination and necessity.
Those same factors can help them accelerate the pace of progress in other critical areas, such as pay equity and ladder climbing, and ultimately make the phrase ‘gender gap’ a thing of the past.

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