By Dr. Eric Shoars, author Women Under Glass: The Secret Nature of Glass Ceilings and the Steps to Overcome Them
When I began researching glass ceilings there were questions as to why a man was tackling the issue of in the first place. After all, this is a women’s issue, isn’t it?
My personal reason for supporting women breaking glass ceilings is very simple. My mom was part of the first all-women insurance sales team in Iowa for American Mutual Life in the early 1960s. Her career aspirations were thwarted due to factors related to the glass ceiling. Mom is 82 now and the question “what might have been” often comes to mind when I think of how far my mom’s career could have gone if not for the artificial barriers that held her back.
Now, as I look at my step-daughter, nieces, and great-nieces, I don’t want to have to look at their careers and ask, “What might have been?” But that’s me. Why, then, should other men take up the cause? Quite simply, it is in the best interests of our economy and our society to do so.
Half of the Talent
Talentship is a prime concern for many industries. In this economy every company needs to make sure its best and brightest people are contributing to the organization’s long-term growth and success. Will that really happen when we’re voluntarily choosing to keep half of our best talent on the bench? 73% of male CEOs believe that the glass ceiling is no longer a problem for women, while 71% of women trying to break through the glass ceiling said it is.
We, as men, need to get other men – particularly executives – to wake up and realize that just because some women have made it through the glass ceiling doesn’t mean there is currently an equal opportunity for all women to break through.
It is foolish to think that men have a monopoly on the solutions to the critical challenges facing our businesses not only during a recession but also competing in a global economy. According to a recent Washington Post article, accounting giant Ernst & Young argued that companies with more women in senior management roles make more money. Reporters Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write, “Pepperdine found that Fortune 500 firms with the best records of putting women at the top were 18 to 69% more profitable than the median companies in their industries.” At least a half dozen studies document a clear relationship between women in senior management and corporate financial success.
Are you getting the message, gentlemen?
Social Change: Equality of Opportunities
Social change requires the disadvantaged group and a core faction of the advantaged group form coalitions to bring an end to inequality and injustice. Women’s suffrage, civil rights, and Apartheid are just three examples of this dynamic. However, in all aspects of our society, men should not be seen as the standard against which women are to be measured for equal justice. The standard for measurement should be what is moral, just, and within the letter and spirit of our laws.
Equality does not mean equality of outcomes; it means equality of opportunities. Women currently aren’t on a level playing field with men for those opportunities. There needs to be a core group of us to decide we’re not putting up with women’s inequality any longer. We need to partner with women and change history. Look at where we stand at this moment in time: The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University reported that eight women served as governors in 2009; same as 2008. 24 percent of women served in statewide elective office in 2009, down from 28 percent in 2000. The U.S. Senate has 17 female members. There are ten female House members. The class of 2008 includes less than half the number of women who first won office in 1992 – the so-called “year of the woman.” A record number of women are serving in Congress, but still only 17 percent of its members are female. This puts America on the same level of representation women have achieved in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. A United Nations tracking group estimates it will take women 40 years to reach parity with men.
In 2050, my step-daughter will be 59, my nieces will be 70 and 65, and my great-nieces will be 48, 43, and 41. The prospect of looking at them and thinking “what might have been” is one I’m not willing to tolerate.
We as men need to examine how we benefit when both men and women compete in the marketplace of ideas at the highest levels of our businesses and society. It is important to recognize that no good comes from leaving half of our best talent and minds on the sidelines. We must become champions and advocates for our best and brightest, regardless of gender. Men benefit from the excellent support women have historically given us. Men, it’s time to step up and support women.