The American workforce is increasingly reflecting the changing American demographic. "Minorities" like women and people of color are occupying more management and leadership positions in the business world and corporate America. Their presence has begun to trigger changes in how companies are managed and in the broader areas of corporate culture.
However, in many ways, women in business continue to face unique problems because of their gender. This paper discusses how these difficulties continue to form barriers for women in the business world. The effects of gender stereotypes and expectations can be seen in virtually all aspects of employment -- from hiring practices to wages, from chances for advancement to retirement benefits. This paper examines how factors like unequal pay and a male-dominated corporate culture help to ensure that the American corporate world remains largely an enclave of men.
Unfair hiring and advancement practices
In a study designed to examine double standards in the hiring process due to gender, researchers found that women faced a double set of expectations. First, they had to be able to perform competently and exhibit typical masculine qualities such as "assertiveness." However, particularly when vying for high-status jobs, women are also expected to demonstrate "feminine" traits like empathy and tact. The women who did not have these so-called "feminine" traits were considered less suitable for employment. However, male applicants were not judged based on the presence or absence of these "feminine" traits (SooHoo).
Women who are hired face obstacles to advancement. Despite the greater number of women in the workforce, there still exists a clear sex segregation in employment. In most modern nations such as the United States, majority of the domestic work is still assigned to women. In addition, even in the paid labor force, many women are still assigned to supportive functions (Cejka and Eagly).
This socialization into gender roles has significant implications for women seeking positions in management. To begin with, despite the publicized success of CEOs like Hewlett Packard's Carly Fiorina and TLC Beatrice's Loida Nicholas Lewis, there remains a dearth of women in top managerial positions. All but a few Fortune 500 companies remain run by men (Book 28).
Gender Wage Gap
Such inequity is also evidenced in the gender wage gap. Despite pay equity laws and a growing awareness of gender discrimination and women's rights, salary disparities continue to exist between men and women across a broad range of occupations.
Despite these gains, however, differences in pay equity, access to power and decision-making status continue to exist between the genders. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women earn only an estimated 76 cents to the dollar that men are paid for the same jobs. Though they now comprise around half of the American workforce, majority of them are in lower-level positions. Women remain underrepresented in managerial and other decision-making posts. In fact, women occupy only 20% of middle management and a mere 5% of all executive positions (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The growing number of women in the workforce and their lack of access to positions of power thus pave the way for the increasing instances of sexual harassment.
The gender wage gap continues to persist across a diversity of occupations, after controlling for factors like age and education levels. Clearly, gender plays a key role in determining a person's salary.
Statistics further show that the gender wage gap is exacerbated by race. Thus, the median weekly salary of African-American women who worked fulltime was $429, compared to $669 for Caucasian men. Over a year, this means that a black woman generally earns $12,000 less than a white man for the same job (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Part of the reason is the poor enforcement of wage discrimination laws. Funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal body charged with bringing civil suits against discriminatory employers, continues to be inadequate. As a result, many women are dissuaded from pursuing legal action, due to the long wait and the cumbersome bureaucracy (Gibelman).
Many women face lower pay levels as soon as they are hired. Part of the reason is socialization, as some employers maintain that women do not negotiate for higher wages. However, analysts believe that the greater fault lies with the employers, who continue to ignore the Equal Pay Act.
Male corporate culture
Studies have shown that the culture in many corporations remain male. Leadership is equated with being "strong" and "masculine." Such expectations contrast sharply with the way men and women are socialized as they are growing up.
Though they are not as sharply defined or discriminatory as in other countries, American society has prescribed gender roles for men and women. This polarization is evident in daily life interactions, such as language. Studies of linguistic variations between men and women show that men are generally more direct and aggressive in their speech. Female speech is supposedly more polite, as women use more adjectives, interjections and conversational tag, and display a greater sensitivity. These differences, however, are a result of socialized gender roles (Eckert, 28).
In addition to different ways of communication, men and women are perceived differently when they talk. Studies have found that men are more likely to be opposing such as joking and teasing. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be sharing. However, women who adopt male communication styles, they are less likely to be attended to and may even end up being perceived in a bad light (Page, 126).
This socialization into gender roles has significant implications for women in corporate leadership positions. To begin with, despite the publicized success of CEOs like Hewlett Packard's Carly Fiorina and TLC Beatrice's Loida Nicholas Lewis, there remains a dearth of women in top managerial positions. All but a few Fortune 500 companies remain run by men (Book 67).
There are many reasons for the small number of women in these positions of leadership. Esther Wachs Book points to a strict hierarchical bureaucracy and the lack of consultative communication between chiefs and workers as one reason. However, the main reason for this lack of women is a masculine corporate culture that remains resistant to change. Fortune 500 companies demanded CEOs who had a "tough, aggressive, taking no prisoners and winning at all cost" style (Book 67).
These same qualities, however, are considered unfeminine. Women who rose up the corporate ladder in the 1970s and the 1980s thus had to assume the similar traits of aggressiveness and toughness. Linda Wachner, for example, showed seemingly unfeminine ruthlessness when she assumed leadership of Warnaco in 1986. Wachner slashed costs and decimated the management staff from 200 to seven. She bought out companies and led a hostile takeover of her parent company (Book 71).
By showing she can muscle her way into big business, Wachner showed that she can act just like a man in a Fortune 500 corporate setting. However, this was exactly how she was perceived, as a man. To achieve corporate success at Warnaco, Wachner had to consciously assume male-associated traits and to constantly define her actions in terms of what other male CEOs would do.
The traditional business structure that characterizes Warnaco and most other Fortune 500 companies was adopted from military hierarchy after World War II. The lack of women in the military and the association with war thus resulted in a strong masculine culture in the business world.
Leaders were equated with military generals, who were traditionally viewed as direct, decisive and highly individualistic. For decades after the war, Connell writes, "commercial capitalism calls on a calculative masculinity ... Their combination, competitiveness, in institutionalized in 'business' and becomes a central ... In the new form of hegemonic masculinity" (Connell, 156).
Women, on the other hand, were seen as more adapted to teamwork and supportive behavior. In the militarized hierarchy of business, this translates women being relegated to supportive roles of administrative and secretarial positions. While there is certainly nothing wrong with these occupations, the perception of women as "supportive" is another obstacle for female executives who are trying to climb the ladder of corporate leadership.
The socialization and expectation that women will fulfill certain roles also gives rise to hostility for women who refuse to fit in the box. Many female executives who aspire to corporate executive positions are also routinely subjected to sexual harassment, even among Fortune 500 companies.
For example, in 1998, following a class action lawsuit for sexual harassment, financial giant Salomon Smith Barney set aside $15 million to enact policy changes to ensure a more hospitable work environment for women. This landmark settlement came after the brokerage firm was found guilty of practices like intimidation, explicit sexual talk, excluding them from meetings and hiring strippers for company entertainment parties held at the firm's infamous "boom room" (Antilla 28). The publicity devoted to this case helped to increase awareness, showing that sexual harassment can invade the boardrooms as well.
The presence of women in management is helping to address…