If you were to believe everything you see on TV shows, you would think that women had finally shattered the glass ceiling and claimed their place alongside men in the boardrooms of America. You would think they were calling the shots, moving and shaking, taking the world by storm. And you would be sorely mistaken.

We know better than to believe what we see on TV. In fact, according to statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the percentage of women breaking through into management positions is still noticeably low. From 2002 to 2005, the percentage of women in management roles hovered around 35 percent. In stark contrast, women occupy 52 percent of professional positions, 48 percent of technician positions, 56 percent of sales positions, and a whopping 79 percent of office and clerical positions. Despite the growing presence of women in other job types, it seems, management largely remains a club for the boys.
This is not to say that women are completely absent from upper management roles. Pepsi, for instance, has enjoyed recent success under CEO Indra Nooyi. And Xerox Chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy has been largely responsible for bringing the company back to life. Women are obviously capable of taking the reins in the business world, to say nothing of the looming possibility of a female president. So why don’t we see more of them in the boardroom?
Theories abound. All of them are bound to get emotional, even angry, reactions. The truth is, however, that no one really knows; but they do have some pretty good guesses. Other people have some pretty dumb ideas that only reflect the ugly ghosts of the past. Here are five of the most popular explanations for this phenomenon (disclaimer: these explanations do not represent my personal viewpoints but mere reportings of what others have proposed):
1. ChauvinismTradition! As much as things have progressed, many businessmen still hold to the belief that women are ill-equipped to handle the rigors of the corporate world and should be confined solely to raising children and looking pretty. Don’t expect this to clear up any time soon, as these beliefs are very, very entrenched in the psyche of American males. Give us guys a few more decades of getting our butts kicked by girls in basketball or Halo, and things will improve dramatically.
2. Different communication styles – Studies have shown that women generally communicate ideas differently than their male counterparts. From this, researchers have formed the theory that this difference hampers women in a world structured to reflect and facilitate male communication. Women asking for buy-in from teammates, for example, is perceived by males as weakness or uncertainty. It’s sort of the polar opposite of when your girlfriend or wife asks you if you want ice cream but she really means she wants ice cream.
3. Emotional approach – When Hillary cried in Hew Hampshire, women suddenly gravitated toward her. Tears, however, do not have the same effect on men. Tears make us uneasy because they are usually because we did or said something dumb. In the male-dominated boardroom, displays of emotion are seen as contrary to the logic that must supposedly reign there. In the minds of many males, being overly happy, sad, or angry represents a lack of discipline or control; and this translates into weakness. This is a major obstacle for the many women for whom outward displays of emotion come so easily.
4. Fewer women seeking business degrees – Many experts point to the fact that many women just aren’t attracted to the world of business. Many go into nursing, education, or the humanities. With fewer women studying business, fewer still will actually rise through the ranks to join top management. This fact is supported by research, but the causality behind it is still in question. Do women choose not to pursue management careers because of the barriers to entry or are they naturally more attracted to other careers?
5. Less competitive – The business world, by its own admission, is not a friendly place, per se. They say things like, “Business is war” and, “You get the point.” The modern conception of business is a place of competition, adversity, winning and losing, conquering and domination. Generally, these values have been espoused by men as necessary to business success. Studies have shown that women, in general, much to their disadvantage, value instead cooperation and synergy. These values have the potential to boost companies’ capabilities. In the meantime, however, they are viewed as a weakness by many male managers and block women from being promoted up into higher management.

Opportunities for women to become top managers have increased dramatically, but they still have a tough climb to the top. Old traditions and the largely male-centric business world still work against them. This means they will, for the time being, have to work harder and make a bigger impact to rise to the top. Women interested in taking on this challenge can start by looking into Business Degrees.

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One comment on “Women in the Boardroom: Still a Tough Climb

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