By: Lori J. Bertman
President/CEO Pennington Family Foundation; Co-Founder and Chair of The Center For Disaster Philanthropy
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Are Companies Tackling Gender Disparity in the Workplace, Or Are We Just Paying Lipstick Service?
Whoever said “It’s lonely at the top” must have been a female executive. Have you ever wondered why the national pay gap is the same now as it was 10 years ago? In 2012 women earned 77 cents for each dollar earned by men, which was the same in 2002. Although economists argue the finer points of this data, they unanimously agree that it reflects at the very least a trend that women are not attaining higher positions within organizations. Even with the knowledge, as proven in Catalyst’s research, that including women at the top and in the boardrooms improves an organization’s bottom line across every industry, businesses still obviously are not doing enough to promote women in the boardroom.
It is true that many predominantly male industries are beginning to work hard to increase women’s representation. A new study released by NES Global Talent found that 75 percent of women that were polled in the oil and gas industry, a field that is still 80 percent male, felt welcomed by these male colleagues, however almost half still felt as though they did not receive equal recognition for their work. Other industries such as math and science, engineering, and finance still struggle to recruit women.
One hopeful alternative can be found in the travel industry, which is already comprised of a 65 percent female workforce. However, although the field boasts such a strong showing of women in lower and midlevel positions, as you reach upper-level positions, women are notably absent not only in executive positions and the boardroom, but on conference panels and speaking engagements as well. Women in Travel (WINiT), a new [pending] nonprofit organization started by Mick Lee, a lead executive in the financial services industry, has taken the approach of bringing both women and men together to mentor junior and midlevel women in the industry. The organization is clear that it does not focus on “empowerment,” because by definition, “to empower” means “to give power” or “to permit.” WINiT states that women and men both have power already, and rather that the organization is dedicated to supporting women.
The travel industry is influential, and almost all companies and organizations utilize travel services in some capacity. In fact, for each dollar spent on travel and tourism, $3.20 are generated in GDP across the entire economy. If people invest in WINiT’s mission, there is great potential for replication across all industries.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, had a great deal of success with her Lean In philosophy, but then fell flat with her recent #BanBossy campaign in conjunction with the Girl Scouts. Meanwhile, the Girl Scouts have utilized Earned Income strategies in the form of cookie sales to sustain their organization’s funding since 1917. They are one of the first organizations to use this innovative tactic: Who cares if they want to be bossy to the Boy Scouts selling knockoff caramel corn at Kroger? The campaign is waging a war on semantics, while women need a level playing field, not a rulebook.
Banning the word “bossy” on the playground does not eliminate the more insidious issue, where female assertiveness is treated with negative feedback, while it is a positive attribute in men. It misses the opportunity to reclaim a word and turn it into a positive: The word bossy is related to the word boss. If you aspire to be a boss, I hope you would be bossy! Additionally, the movement reflects a self-consciousness in which women define themselves based on how men describe them. Reiterating WINiT’s philosophy, we do not need to be empowered either by our female peers or by men. Women have this power already, and it is now up to men and women alike to support its use in the workplace.
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