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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Bring your kids to work, build new leaders

This commentary is co-authored with Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, a nonprofit membership organization focused on expanding opportunities for women in business.

Eighteen years ago, only days before the first annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day, the Ms. Foundation for Women received a call from a New York City high school teacher.

The teacher said she had lined up an internship for one of her bright female students in a downtown business. All she had to do was show up. But standing at the foot of the building, the girl was overwhelmed and went home.

With encouragement from the teacher, she tried again. This time she got inside the building, but couldn't press the button on the elevator. Again, she left.

The teacher-- sensing the depth of her discomfort-- went with her. It worked. She got the internship and her "sea legs."

This is what Take Our Daughters to Work Day is all about. Expanded to include boys in 2003, the program enables millions of children to see first-hand the possibilities afforded by a good education, experience a family-friendly work environment, and bolster self-esteem.

But despite our best efforts, new research shows that the future is not as bright for our children as we once thought. Women lag behind men in pay and promotions. And across society, especially in politics, there is a crisis in female leadership.

"Pipeline's Broken Promise," a new report by Catalyst, analyzed the career paths and salaries of more than 4,100 MBA graduates from around the world. It found that women start at lower positions, earn less money and receive fewer promotions than equally skilled men. Even after taking into account industry, parenthood status, and region, among other factors, women make on average $4,600 less in their initial jobs out of business school.

If this is happening to the best and the brightest of our daughters, can you imagine what is happening to others across the spectrum of workplaces and skill levels?

A new report by the White House Project, "Benchmarking Women's Leadership", set out to answer this question. The study looked at ten sectors across American culture and found women comprise, on average, only 18% of the top leadership positions across all ten.

The business sector, where women hold an average of 16% of the leadership positions, is one of the lowest. This is painfully ironic because Catalyst's "Bottom Line" studies show that companies with the highest representation of women in top management outperform, on average, those with fewer.

Women working full-time still earn only 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man-- an improvement of less than half a penny a year since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was signed. African-American women make 64% less than white men while Hispanic women earn 52% less.

Gender inequity is rife in politics too. While we make up over half of the US population, women are 12% of all governors, 15% of all mayors of large cities, 23% of state legislators and 24% of state executive officials. The ratios are equally dire on the federal level. Women comprise only 17% of the members of Congress and hold 14% of Congressional committee chairs. Women of color account for only 5% of representatives in the House and are completely absent in the Senate. And we still have not had a female president or vice president.

These ratios have remained largely unchanged over the past decade despite the fact that women have voted at increasingly higher rates than men in every presidential election since 1980. And women in Congress, on average, bring home more money for their districts, attract more co-sponsors, and introduce more bills than their male colleagues.

Still, women lag behind men in business and politics. The question is: how do we fix this?

For politics, we have to recruit and train women in ever increasing numbers. Research has shown that women who choose to run for office are just as likely as their male counterparts to win. Training programs provide key support networks, tools, and inspiration for women to pursue careers in politics.

In business, managers must take hard, honest looks at their recruiting, hiring, and promotion processes. If they find a disparity about where new employees were placed, and how much they earned, it should be corrected.

And there is something we all can do today. By taking our children to work we can give them the strength to pursue their goals and inspire them to strive for the top, regardless of their gender. We should tell them they can be anything they want to be-- and act on this promise to make it come true.

By Marie Wilson

 |  April 22, 2010; 10:40 AM ET
Category:  Teaching Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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