Category Archives: Glass ceiling

Ladies, what would make you take industrial action?

Who is complacent? Women or organisations?

I recently watched “Made in Dagenham” , a movie made about the women machinists at Ford’s Dagenham factory who downed tools in 1968, in protest that they were classed as unskilled workers, while male colleagues doing the same job were thought to be skilled and therefore paid much more for their efforts.

The three-week strike brought production at the factory,  which was the centre of the UK car industry at the time, to a halt. The dispute was finally resolved only when Barbara Castle, the  Minister for Employment was brought in to negotiate a settlement.

The Ford machinist ladies returned to work after agreeing to be paid not parity with their male colleagues, but 92 per cent of male machinists’ wages. This strike accelerated the introduction of the Equal Pay Act of 1970, which made it illegal to have different pay scales for men and women.

Are women dissatisfied enough?
This prompted me think of Vineet Nayar’s slightly contentious HBR article, “Are women dissatisfied enough?”    He suggests that perhaps we women are a tad too complacent and not dissatisfied enough to “force” the changes we want to see in our lives today.  Referencing the US Civil Rights Movement, the Egyptian Revolution and Indian Independence, he suggests that “The difference between a change and a revolution is a function of the extent of dissatisfaction.”

Historical Perspective
In a historical perspective post World War II economic models were created specifically to accommodate men returning from the traumas of a global war and to increase the birth rate. This model was therefore based on a nuclear family containing an economic provider and a child raiser, with women therefore discouraged from entering the workforce. After heroic war efforts on the home front, the seeds of dissatisfaction with this way of life were sown by women in the 60s and 70s, resulting in certain amount of bra burning, shortening of skirts, free love and general cultural unrest. Economies were relatively buoyant at the time and these demands were met, as we saw in Dagenham. The long-term result of these movements was that more women entered education and thereafter embarked on career routes.

Generally,  those male centric business models in many cases prevail today. In some areas, limited meaningful changes have actually been made to organizational structures to marry the inevitable outcome of the increased number of educated women in our societies and the resulting demands made by a two career family.

What sort of protests?
However , I’m not sure what Vineet had in mind, but the point is that women shouldn’t have to occupy the cafeteria to get a promotion,  or pitch tents in the car park to lead high visibility projects. As Gene Marks astutely points out in Why  Most Women Won’t be CEOs   they would certainly need a babysitter before they could even think about chaining themselves to the revolving doors of their corporate headquarters to make a point. For many women the strongest form of protest is via a silent revolution, of voting with their feet. They simply leave.  Why? Because unlike both the men and women in India, Egypt and Louisiana  what’s on offer doesn’t interest them enough and isn’t attractive enough to channel their energies. They choose to do other things. And this is where organisational complacency kicks in, as generally male leaders sit back and simply watch a brain drain. Truthfully many men would also leave, but they are equally tied by the same limiting model in their allocated role as the “ provider”.

Silent revolution
So I asked 3 women what would need to happen to make them take some form of decisive and extreme industrial action, petitioning the board or walking out on strike.

  • Suzanna,  London  solicitor Nothing probably – a crime against humanity
  • Fabienne,  advertising executive, Belgium  “ Perhaps some sort of physical abuse which had been tolerated by senior management – but if I’m honest only if there was a group”
  • Martha, Pharmaceutical Researcher,  Italy  “  Closure of the offices perhaps and as  part of a general protest

We know that organisations tend  only to adapt to demands made by both men and men for change in the workplace, when their bottom lines are impacted.  Whether these changes will follow the retirement of  baby boomers raised by post war  “stay at home”  Mums,   or the discrediting of  “ crony capitalism”  with  yet another financial crisis, ( I never thought I would hear myself quote Sarah Palin  ..heaven help me).

But it will happen eventually.

So what would prompt you to take industrial action?

A great divide: planned parenthood and corporate planning

Corporate plans in place for a terrorist attack or natural disaster, but not maternity leave

Stereotypical thinking
I have just taken a flight across Europe. For 2 hours and 20 minutes straight, a new-born baby screamed without taking a breath the entire trip. The parent (male) and steward (male) did their level best to soothe the poor mite – but to no avail. It was a totally natural scene and possibly apart from being thankful it wasn’t their child, no one on that aeroplane gave the matter a second thought and especially not the gender of the 2 care givers

Perpetuating stereotypes
Which made me think of the Forbes Power Women List which came out last week. I’m not a fan and generally believe it leans towards bull rather than buzz, although I will admit this year’s list is an improvement on 2010, despite Christine Lagarde only coming in at #9. I also think perhaps somewhat contentiously that it promotes stereotypical thinking, just as much and perhaps more so, as it tries to debunk it.

A vital statistic that stood out for me in this year’s promotional roll call, in that slightly breathless, condescending, incredulous, ” didn’t they do well” tone, is that 88% of the women on the list have children. They are mothers. What’s particularly interesting about this information, is that it is even mentioned. I assume most of the Forbes powerful men list are fathers. Does anyone ever comment about that? Exactly!

Planned parenthood
One of the greatest historical changes to impact the lives of couples and women in particular in recent times (perhaps ever) in the developed world, is the wide availability of sophisticated birth control and contraception.The Economist (December 31, 1999) called oral contraceptives ” the greatest science and technology advance in the twentieth century

This has given both women and men (let’s not forget these are not immaculate conceptions) in developed economies, the opportunity to plan with the military precision of a space mission, not just the number of children they have, but also the timing of each pregnancy. Diets are adjusted, alcohol intake modified, exercise increased, temperatures taken, ovulation cycles monitored, sperm counts checked, baby rooms prepared, ante natal classes attended, showers held, mother and baby classes subscribed to. Books are bought, family are alerted, dad-to-be helps with all the heavy breathing, romper suits arrive by the dozen. Buggies, bouncers and baby chairs are ordered. Names are chosen, christenings or similar naming ceremonies are planned. Plan Bs hover in the background , with frozen eggs and sperm on hand just in case mother nature doesn’t oblige.

Strategic planning
So it would seem, notwithstanding the odd surprise, that having a baby has to be one of the most orderly and thought out processes that many men and women undertake in their lives. So I ask myself (and you too!) why does the planning seem to stop there? If employees are planning their families, why can organisations not plan to the same degree? Instead the careers of women in their 30s becomes a major elephant in the sitting room, that people hope will amble away on its own. And women do – in their droves.

Female workforce
Janine is a Client Services Director for a well-known financial services company based near Brighton, UK. She manages a team of 120, of which 90 are women. 80% of that number are between the ages 18 and 40. “ If all my team became pregnant at the same time, I’d have a problem!” she told me smiling. “As their manager I’m not allowed to ask my employees what their plans or intentions are with regard to having a family. Their supervisors are close to their staff in an informal way and have ideas about who we would move where and to cover which gaps and skill sets. But there is no official succession planning policy to cover maternity leave, although we do have an emergency plan in the event of a terrorist attack or other natural disaster! ”

Terrorist threat
Now I’m sure there could well be any number of subversive, underground, terrorist cells plotting to target financial organisations near Brighton, but I wonder how these threats, including a meteorological catastrophe, would stack up against the likelihood of any of those female staff becoming pregnant. There is a plan to cope with both of the former, but not the latter. Does that strike anyone as a little incongruous? I also find it frustrating than women are not expected to plan beyond the start of their maternity leave and although having a baby is discombobulating on many levels, it doesn’t close down brain functionality completely. They are having a baby, not a lobotomy.

The father factor
A Fatherhood Study carried out by Boston College tells us “ According to a study by the National Study of the Changing Workforce, for the first time since 1992, young women and young men do not differ in terms of their desire for jobs with greater responsibility (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2008). As a result, young women may be less prone to be the “accommodating spouse” in two-career couples, placing their career aspirations second to that of their male spouses”.

In fact the study also suggests that men also have different expectations. “Their wives are likely to be at least as well if not better educated, just as ambitious as they are, and make more money than they do. More importantly, these men feel that being a father is not about being a hands-off economic provider

Cultural changes
It would seem that although the expectations of both men and women are changing, organisations are not adapting fast enough to the cultural shifts in the societies around them. Economies need to counteract a declining birth rate and stimulate economic growth. The economy of the euro zone for example has been predicted to grow 16 per cent if women were in formal employment as much as men. Both men and women are looking for better work/life balance, not just women, and the business model for corporate culture, which creates a gender divide needs to be re-examined rather than emulated.

Lists such as the Forbes list with messages which portray women with successful careers as mothers are actually perpetuating stereotypical thinking rather than knocking it on the head.

Men get married and are fathers too.

Women in Finance : Breaking glass

This interview with Sandra Rapacioli Sustainability and Leadership Specialist at C.I.M.A. ( Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) is the first in a series looking into women’s roles in different global business sectors.

Sandra Rapacioli is responsible for producing and promoting thought leadership within C.I.M.A., with a special interest in the progression of women into senior roles. She has been involved in the commissioning of a report Breaking Glass: Strategies for Tomorrow’s Leaders within the finance function.

DD: What are the main issues facing women in the finance function in business and industry today?

SR: Worldwide CIMA has 71,657 members. 26,366 (31%) are female members and 45,291 (43%) are female students, in a total of 168 countries. This is a significant percentage. The proportion of CIMA female fellows (members with considerable leadership experience) varies across the globe. But with women now making up a third of CIMA’s members and just under half of CIMA’s students, our female members are six times less likely than male members to be in senior roles such as CFO or CEO. The women we spoke to have identified two main challenges in their careers: the problem of achieving a satisfying work-life balance, and the difficulty of being taken seriously in male dominated businesses. This should be surprising because as part of a management team, management accountants are increasingly required to tap into their soft skills to persuade and influence the other stakeholders in their organisations. This requires trust and empathy, qualities women traditionally exhibit in considerable measure.

DD: Do you feel there is overt discrimination?

SR: While few of the women we spoke to in the preparation of the report felt they had suffered from direct discrimination, some had definitely come face to face with strong prejudices. All acknowledged that it was difficult for a woman to succeed and earn respect in male dominated industries, often due to entrenched attitudes and stereotypes. Some members found they simply had to stay positive in the face of these barriers. Other members working in more transparent company cultures felt that opportunities are generally greater. Our research suggests that it’s actually easier for women to succeed in some Asian countries, despite a few of our members in this region telling us that they had struggled with some outdated attitudes about the role of women.

DD: Why are Asian women finding it easier to succeed?

SR: In many parts of Asia the extended family is very strong and childcare arrangements are easier with grandparents and other family members living locally.

DD:What advice are you giving your female members?

SR: The successful women we interviewed employ a range of strategies – in addition to working hard, to help them succeed. These ranged from setting clear career goals and using mentors to help promote themselves within the organisation and externally. We definitely advise them to seek support, although with an absence of women at a senior level, most of the mentoring is carried out by men. We also advise our members to improve their networking skills by joining female networking groups – both internal and external. Raising individual profiles within their organisations is also one of our key strategies to success. Self promotion is something else we have also advocated, but that also doesn’t come easily to many women.

DD: What else do you recommend women members do?

SR: We recommend that all women members plan their careers path in detail and create a strategy – focusing on short-term and long-term goals to factor in all organisational eventualities: for example ensuring backup childcare and prioritising daily tasks, delegating where appropriate.

DD: What did you identify that organisations could do to redress this balance?

SR: All research indicates that when women represent 30% of any group, financial performance is increased and that companies should acknowledge that there is an existence of bias in recruitment, so we are suggesting to HR departments and organisations that they do a number of things : set performance targets for female retention and promotion and not only reconsider the composition of selection teams for leadership roles but also encourage women to apply for any leadership positions. We want companies to invest in leadership development and training opportunities for high potential women by encouraging the identification and understanding of relevant career paths and supporting the necessary stepping-stones for leadership roles. We would also like to see the completion of career potential analysis for all women leaders.

DD: How far do you believe women are from achieving parity in your sector?

SR: We have a long way to go, but we are certainly taking the necessary steps to make this happen.