The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Fortune 500s--Where Are the Women?

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Five years ago, my colleagues Vicki W. Kramer, Ph.D., Alison M Konrad, Ph.D. and I studied the effect on boardroom dynamics of increasing women’s presence. We interviewed 50 women directors, 12 CEOs (9 male), and seven corporate secretaries at Fortune 1000 companies. The results showed that the benefits of having women on a corporate board are more likely to be realized when three or more women serve on a board.

Two recent reports released by Catalyst of Fortune 500 women board directors, executive officers, and top earners, show that “women’s share of Board Director and Executive Officer positions increased by only half a percentage point or less during the past year”—the seventh consecutive year of no improvement in the number of board seats women held. The reports further demonstrated discouraging data for women of color and women’s earnings at the highest levels within the organizations.

What we found in our study—and what studies since have verified—is that women directors make distinct types of contributions that men are less likely to make. For example, they can broaden boards’ discussions to include the concerns of a wider set of stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the community at large. And even more germane to the distressing news about the lack of growth in women’s representation reported by Catalyst in “Women and Men in U.S. Corporate Leadership,” women’s presence on a corporate board has a positive impact on women in the corporation. In other words, increasing the number of women on corporate boards is a good beginning for increasing the number of women leaders in a corporation.

A recent report in the McKinsey Quarterly from April 2012 shows that diversity in the top echelons of corporate diversity is associated with better financial results. In 180 publicly traded companies in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany, companies making up the top quartile of executive board diversity (in terms of women and foreign national on senior teams) returns on equity and margins on earnings before interest and taxes of were 53% higher compared to companies in the bottom quartile.

So if top team diversity is good for the bottom line, why aren’t corporations rushing to diversify their leadership? The answer may be the persistent bias in viewing men with identical credentials to women as more competent than the women. The results of a recent experiment reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Sept. 17 can shed light on this gender bias. The study focused on the scarcity of women in academic science, where women are also highly underrepresented. In this experiment, science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a graduate student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the identical female applicant. (Faculty participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.)

It appears that undervaluing women’s credentials, seeing them as lacking the necessary competence, to be a laboratory manager or a corporate leader, is pervasive and quite resistant to change. This gender bias operates most forcefully in situations where people are evaluating candidates with whom they have little personal familiarity. Curiously, in actual organizational settings the results of field studies (not laboratory experiments) have shown that there are few differences in how male and female managers are perceived. Greater familiarity with the actual characteristics and performance of managers one works with seems sufficient to overcome masculine biases. However, hiring and promotions decisions are made blogpullquoteFortune500sby people who do not know the candidate personally. When there is no familiarity with the person being evaluated to trump the bias that makes men seem more competent, men are chosen over equally competent women.

How are we to bring rationality to evaluating women on their merit? Becoming aware of implicit biases is a first step. Training can help us to be aware of our implicit biases. When faced with a hiring or promotion decision, we need to compel ourselves to justify an “automatic” assumption that a male candidate is more competent. Having diversity on evaluation committees is another must.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author of Inside Women's Power: Learning from Leaders.

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Guest — Anne N
Thank you for this insightful post. Implicit bias against women in the workplace-- held by women and men -- is a much-overlooked i... Read More
Wednesday, 12 December 2012 17:01
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The Next Four Years: Electing Ourselves as Agents of Change

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Now that we’ve had a day to reflect on the U.S. presidential election results, it’s time to get back to the business of changing the world for women and girls, their families, and communities. We have the election to thank for bringing to light a growing gender gap in terms of the kinds of issues women and men are concerned about, and we would do well to study this more deeply. During the campaign season, “women’s issues” included not only the right to abortion, reproductive freedom and justice, and access to contraception, but also jobs, pay equity, education, health care, violence against women, and even, sadly, rape. And I can’t begin to name all the issues that didn’t even make it to the table of discussion. We were reminded, yet again, that we still have much work to do to make our nation – not to mention the world–a place that is safe and welcoming for women and girls, a place that respects and cultivates women’s and girls’ capabilities, and a place that acknowledges the reality that women’s issues are everybody’s issues.

As much as we may be energized, inspired, stunned, angered, or even fatigued by the election of our nation’s leaders, I think we should never lose sight of the reality that “we are the ones we have been waiting for.” And there is so much we can and should do of our own initiative, regardless of what government is or isn’t doing to make our dreams of social change a reality. Presidencies are complicated, and we can’t always rely on political leaders to realize our visions the way we might like. We must step into our own potential as the initiators and inaugurators, stewards and sustainers, of the change we wish to see in the world. I am blogpullquoteElectingOurselvesgenuinely thankful, on behalf of all of those who came before in many generations, to establish this diverse nation and secure the rights of people of all genders and backgrounds to vote, for those who did exercise that right on Election Day. At the same time, I hope we recognize the need to elect ourselves as agents of change. Now, it is time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work–perhaps with even greater exuberance.

I invite you to share with us, in response to this blog, your highest hopes for women and girls, their families and communities, during the next four years. Have you chosen an issue to advocate for or work on? What do you care most about right now? How can we best work together to increase our power to make a difference? And, very importantly, have you asked any of the young women and girls around you what they think? Let’s start a conversation!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

 

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Guest — Karen Lachance
I was struck by Elizabeth Warren's comment yesterday about the fact that the first time in history there are 20 women senators. S... Read More
Friday, 09 November 2012 09:50
Guest — Lucy Mbugua
This is a very nice blog and a challenge to all women. However, i have realised that one must be in position of power to be able t... Read More
Wednesday, 14 November 2012 09:07
Guest — sdfdf
Using this approach we will have the change we want by the end of this 21st century in our lives, communities nations etc.
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 06:47
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Caution, White Knight

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Half the Sky is a two-part documentary film that aired on PBS stations beginning October 1 and 2, 2012. The film’s themes are 1) the ubiquitous violence against women that is perpetrated throughout the world, especially during and in the aftermath of war, and 2) the efforts made by courageous women- many of whom have experienced violence personally, to overcome this oppression. The film features U.S. women with celebrity status – Eva Mendes and Meg Ryan among others – to draw attention to these themes. The inspiration for the film was a book with the same title, co-authored by the husband-and-wife team of New York Times correspondents Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and began with their efforts to explain the “disappearance” of thousands of girl babies every year in China, where traditionally boys are favored.

As a lifelong researcher in the area of the concerns of women in poverty I think this film has great value in drawing the viewing public’s attention to the oppression of women worldwide. However, as a social scientist and activist I have serious concerns about the ethics of making of this film, especially in the case of the two girl rape victims in Sierra Leone; Kristof’s so-called “encounter” with a three-year old girl rape victim and his interview with a 13-year old girl raped by her uncle. Both girls experienced traumatic events likely to leave profound and long-lasting effects on their lives. They are, as all trauma-informed literature states, vulnerable to being re-traumatized in any situation where there is a male and they feel insecure, and their experiences are complicated by cultural norms and deference to locally influential men. It was insensitive at best to have a white adult male taking the lead in talking one-on-one with these girls. Further, the lack of privacy -- showing the girls’ faces and broadcasting their undisguised voices -- likely endangered the girls and their families, if not immediately then at some point in the future. There are many ways in which the film’s message could have been equally well transmitted but with more consideration shown for the victims.

I recommend these readings to help shed light on the complex issues we should consider in aiding women and advancing their security:

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

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Guest — Ruth
Well said Erika. Thank you
Friday, 26 October 2012 16:16
Guest — susan bailey
I second Ruth's comment, Erika. Well said and important to bring to public attention, many of the issues are being dangerously ov... Read More
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 17:16
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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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