I hadn’t even finished the introduction of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and already I was in a state of disbelief.
According to Sandberg, 21% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and women hold about 14% of executive officer positions, 17% of board seats, and constitute 18% of elected congressional officials.
Working with Fortune 500 companies, I realized how accurate these numbers are.
Despite this, many women leaders have defied statistics, and have become outliers in traditionally male-dominated industries.
The deep-rooted inequality in the tech industry is widely reported. Some male leaders believe they have solved the problem as easy as a coding glitch.
Perhaps this was exemplified when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced in October 2014: “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”
Some may argue this was a dismissive remark, but it is actually denial of a challenge that may exist within the organization. Under pressure, we employ denial as a defense mechanism.
Psychologists from Northwestern University and Stanford University found most Americans feel society offers equal opportunities to men and women, and fail to recognize gender barriers still exist.
I had the pleasure of meeting Danae Ringelmann, cofounder of Indiegogo, at an event. I asked her what was her inspiration.
“My dad would always tell me: ‘If you’re doing anything important in the world or creating any kind of important change–the world doesn’t like change, it has inertia and it likes to say ‘no,'” Ringelmann said. “So it’s your job as an entrepreneur to get it to say ‘yes.'”
“If you expect the world to say ‘no’ you won’t get disappointed and find a way around those challenges,” she added. “That literally was one of the comments he left for me.”
Nonprofit Women in Mining UK and PWC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers) published a report titled “Mining For Talent” in 2013, stating the mining industry had the lowest number of women on company boards of any industry group worldwide.
However, the report states profit margins are higher for mining companies with women on the board. If the evidence points to women in leadership roles having a positive effect on profit margins, then where is the mining industry failing?
“There are a lot of barriers caused by my gender,” says Wilhemina Manaso, a mine manager at BHP Billiton in South Africa. “As a woman, if you’re doing well in a male-dominated industry they think you’re having an affair with one of the senior managers. Every time I was promoted, they would say: ‘How come you promoted her? Is she having a relationship with you?’”
Perhaps parachuting a woman into a leadership role in the mining industry is easier. Cynthia Carroll was the first woman CEO of Anglo American, a British mining company. She has significant leadership roles in the mining industry, as well as an MBA from Harvard University.
Carroll immediately made an impression at Anglo American during her first year as CEO in 2007. With falling profits and share price, Carroll recognized the company had become bloated with mid-level managers and restructured the organization, resulting in 19,000 job cuts.
This initially unpopular move showed a strong belief in doing what was needed to begin the turnaround for the organization. However, the press later coined the term “Cyanide Carroll” for her stance on a mining project in Alaska.
A 2012 report from Canada’s Carleton University Center for Women in Politics and Public Leadership found when most female employees in mining firms work on the support side of the organization, they often have difficulty advancing to higher executive roles. Upper management gives those roles to those who work on the operational side.
After tumultuous press coverage and dissatisfaction from shareholders, Mark Cutifani, a mine worker who worked his way up, replaced Carroll as Anglo American CEO in 2013.
Whether you deny the statistics or not, it is easy to become complacent that inequality only happens at one level in organizations–if at all. Studies show that not enough is being done to address this.
With the similar argument that organizations use when discussing how they can’t afford to pay workers the minimum wage, the gender wage inequality is still an issue. As leaders we take responsibility for all our staff. Hiding behind cost implications or process as an excuse is a shameful abdication of responsibility.
Perhaps Carroll says it best:
“This is a generation with technology everywhere . . . my children, they’re fluent. But no matter how advanced you are with technology, no matter where we get to, at the end of the day, it will come down to people.”