Where Are the Women?
In what is possibly the best article ever written about women in high places, Linda Tischler turns the glass ceiling question on its ear (February). Is the problem that women can't get top executive jobs, or is it that men are more willing to trade their lives for the executive suite? Tischler lets you draw your own conclusions. The article left me in awe of women who have attained top jobs and then chosen to give them up. It confirmed something I've long suspected: The real problem isn't why more women aren't in top jobs, it's why men would want those jobs. Is it possible that in a scant one or two generations, women have discovered—and rejected—a choice men have lived with for a century?
North Bridge Group Inc.
Lebanon, New Jersey
A new generation understands that in order to be successful at work, the attitudes toward a life outside of work need to change. In a study conducted by the Families and Work Institute, 90% of students who said they plan to have a job also plan to have children. What's more, 81% of those girls and almost 60% of those boys said they will reduce their work hours when they have children. The sentiments of the children seem to echo those of adults who responded to a Radcliffe Public Policy Center/Harris Interactive 2000 poll, in which 82% of men between the ages of 21 and 39 rated "having a work schedule that allows me to spend time with my family" as "very important." This strongly suggests that people will transform the ways they work over time, making it possible for more women to rise to leadership levels in corporate America. The women's movement into leadership has not reached its peak, as you suggest, but has begun to bring men along.
Marie C. Wilson
Ms. Foundation for Women Inc.
New York, New York
When I saw your statistics on average hours worked per week, it reminded me of a comment I heard about 10 years ago. A young-and-climbing engineer in a biotech firm complained to her male counterparts in a meeting, "I would have the 10 hours of overtime to pour into this project if I had my own personal servant, as most of you do, to wait on you hand and foot." All of those men, with the exception of one, had stay-at-home wives. Her comment was right on target. I believe the inequitable distribution of work after work is a major contributor to a woman's early burnout. In study after study, it is statistically substantiated that even with both couples working, women typically perform far more than 50% of these tasks, more than 25 additional hours of work per week. Just buying groceries, preparing meals, and cleaning the dishes takes close to 18 hours a week.
I have encountered many women who feel that they are successful when they fill challenging roles where they can learn, contribute, and grow. They do not define success by which office they occupy, but by their contribution to and impact on the world—not just the bottom line. This includes contributions made through their work, their children, and their relationships. One could argue that Brenda Barnes actually outgrew the corner office and has had a greater impact since she walked away.
Dr. Susan Nedza
Chief medical officer
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Svcs.
According to a 2003 study done in part by the Families and Work Institute, 43% of women executives versus 54% of their male counterparts hope to join their company's senior management committees. Yet, as you point out, few women make it to the top. Why? Sure, children and family responsibilities derail some women, but organizational and societal obstacles play a significant role as well. While working as executive editor of Chief Executive magazine, I interviewed scores of men and women in top jobs. CEOs of both genders spoke of the many challenges faced and sacrifices made along the way to the top. But some obstacles were unique to the women CEOs. These include the fact that women are often excluded from important informal networks, they have more limited numbers of role models and mentor opportunities, they're often urged toward nonline positions where accomplishments are not bottom-line quantifiable, and they must overcome gender stereotypes. To gloss over these very real obstacles does your readers—male and female—a tremendous disservice.
Editor, NAFE Magazine
National Association for Female Executives
New York, New York
Catalyst—the research team whose statistics are cited multiple times in the article—released a new report on January 26, 2004: "New Catalyst Study Reveals Financial Performance Is Higher for Companies With More Women at the Top." The report confirms that when companies support the success of their female employees, they improve their bottom lines. Instead of finding more ways to blame women for not reaching equality in corporate America, we should be asking corporate America, "What are you doing to retain top women in your company?"
AVP/quantitative finance analyst
Bank of America
For four years, I worked for Ogilvy & Mather led by CEO Shelly Lazarus. I currently work for a women-owned advertising agency, whose visionary leaders make me think things will be different someday and that women will be able to have it all. If more young women made mentors and role models out of experienced senior female talent instead of choosing a path of resignation, the future pool of high-ranking women executives would grow by leaps and bounds.
Asbury Park, New Jersey
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A version of this article appeared in the Table of Contents - April 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.