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Are Businesswomen Contributing Enough? Nope!

Not even close! Don’t take my word for it. I’m educated as a scientist, and I do everything I can to make fact-based decisions based on data, so here’s some data for ya . . .

According to the 2011 Catalyst Census:Fortune 500 Women Board DirectorsExecutive Officers and Top Earners and prior Catalyst Censuses, women have made no significant gains in the last year and are no further along the corporate ladder than they were six years ago:

  • Women held 16.1% of board seats in 2011, compared to 15.7% in 2010.
  • Less than one-fifth of companies had 25% or more women board directors.
  • About one in ten companies had no women serving on their boards.
  • Women of color still held only 3% of corporate board seats.
  • Women held 14.1% of Executive Officer positions in 2011, compared to 14.4% in 2010.
  • Women held only 7.5% of Executive Officer top-earner positions in 2011, while men accounted for 92.5% of top earners.
  • Less than one in five companies had 25% or more women Executive Officers and more than one-quarter had zero.

This is truly a pity, especially for business people who want to make a profit. Consider this from our friends at Catalyst. Companies with three or more women on their board of directors, on average, outperformed companies with zero women board directors:

  • by 84% return on sales,
  • 60% return on invested capital, and
  • 46% return on equity.

While I have my own selfish reasons for yearning for women to play a bigger role in the business world, even the greediest, most ethically bankrupt business person in the world should be pulling every kind of hideous stunt possible in order to get qualified women into their organization.

Aside from improving business performance, I’m also motivated by a sense of fairness, and a certainty that both men and women will benefit from a business world that doesn’t include gender as a criteria for access to opportunities and rewards.

To my valued businessmen out there – don’t worry, I don’t blame you! Nope, I am not a helpless victim, nor do I believe that women will benefit from playing the victim role. Yes, there are biases, no doubt about it, but women contribute to their own under-participation in the business world and its rewards. One example:

  • Statistics show women ask for a raise less often than men.
  • . . . but, when women get a raise, it’s a lot smaller: 2 percent vs. 21 percent, according to recent data from Catalyst.

2% vs. 21%            . . . yes, you read that correctly . . . this is NOT a typo . . . TWO percent vs. TWENTY ONE percent.

(Oh, and if you are about to chalk all of this up to “women have babies”, you need to start reading this post all over again from the top, especially reread the portion that states that organizations with more women at the most senior levels make a whole bunch more money. Babies or not, there’s something about having women on board that dramatically increases profit. This isn’t about the capacity to procreate.)

Taking full responsibility for their fate, there’s a lot that a businesswoman can do. Here are a few that are popular:

  • Get a great education – graduate level if you can afford it. Work hard in school, learn a lot, and get the best grades you possibly can.
  • Ask for a raise, and don’t settle for 2%.
  • Get several mentors, including both men and women, and learn from them.
  • Change companies, getting promotions and raises in the transition that they might never get if they stay at a single company.
  • Start their own business.

I have done all of the above during my career, and each one was both anxiety-inducing and life-changing. And I’ve had plenty of help from both men and women to accomplish all of this, so thank you very much to all of the genders out there.

It’s 2012. I thought by now women would be pulling their fair share of the load in the business world. But, no, women are not contributing enough, and about 2 years ago I got an irresistible urge to do something about this, so I gathered a dozen of my scrappy businesswomen pals together and we wrote our stories in a book called “Scrappy Women in Business – Living Proof That Bending the Rules Isn’t Breaking the Law”. Our purpose was to encourage other women in business to learn from our messy path to success, push themselves beyond what they thought was possible, and not give up. And we created a website to go along with the book previewing all of our stories. To date we’ve had visitors from 80 different countries.

What’s changed? I have! I feel that it’s my personal responsibility to assure that women contribute fully to meeting the challenges that we face in this world.

No individual raindrop can take responsibility for the mighty river, but these small steps towards increasing women’s contribution have made a difference to me, my co-authors, and those who have read our stories. How do I know? I get notes from them saying so. I hope you will take a moment to consider how you can increase women’s contributions to the work that needs to be done in this world. There’s plenty to do! We need all the help we can get.

– Kimberly

P.S. If you’d like to write “Scrappy Women in Healthcare”, “Scrappy Women in Government”, “Scrappy Women in Engineering”, “Scrappy Women Project Managers”, “Scrappy Women Autoworkers”, “Scrappy Women Construction Workers”, or any other book title like that, please contact me and let’s talk about what would make that possible.

P.S.S. The related article below was originally published by my good friends and colleagues at ProjectConnections.com, people who are serious about supporting individuals who are serious about their projects and their careers, and organizations who want the business benefits of awesome project execution!

Suppressing Your Feminine Side May Be Bad for Business

(Click here to read the article on ProjectConnections.com)

About 15 years ago a woman I barely knew, the wife of a coworker, was listening to me describe the challenges I faced as a project manager at Hewlett Packard. “You’re not using your feminine power!” she suddenly pronounced, as if she’d just discovered the cause of some mysterious chronic illness I’d been suffering from for a lifetime. My first reaction was, “Use my feminine power? I sure hope not!” Since I was obviously perplexed, she further explained that this included nurturing behaviors like bringing food and drinks to meetings, and expressing other characteristics that I’ve heard described as “soft skills” by HR pros. I figured I’d missed that in the job description.

You see, I was working in high-tech, and for over a decade I’d painstakingly stamped out any semblance of femininity in my work. After earning a Master’s degree in physics, a field in which women are almost as scarce as on-time schedules, I’d entered the high-tech engineering world, a profession with an equally abysmal track record of attracting women. Why on earth would I want to associate myself—in any way—with anything female in my work? I was sure I would appear weak and ineffective to my colleagues, and quite possibly my salary would decrease.

Maybe I was being a little paranoid, but until recently, I have done my best to ignore the gender issue in my career. I’ve steered clear of “radical feminism,” and I most certainly didn’t want to be perceived as “nurturing.” However, this past year I’ve been working on a book project, Scrappy Women in Business, which prompted me to reflect on the role of women in the workplace, and my own experience as a female in a predominantly male work environment. As a result of this, and the changing nature of the work environment, I’ve come to value what my colleague’s wife called my “feminine power.” But my initial hesitation wasn’t completely unfounded, given the research on women in the workplace.

Even If I’m Not Nurturing, Chances Are People Will Think I Am

It turns out that it might not matter whether I am nurturing or not—being a woman, it’s likely that I will beperceived as nurturing by CEOs and other top executives. Catalyst, the leading global nonprofit dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business, published a study in 2005 under the intriguing titleWomen “Take Care,” Men “Take Charge:” Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed. Their research demonstrated that, although women and men often lead in similar ways, they are perceived very differently by both male and female senior executives. Regardless of the reality, women are perceived to be better at supporting and rewarding while men are perceived to be better at delegating and influencing upward.

Unfortunately, these unconscious biases impact the perception of competence and fitness for promotion, though with the growing emphasis on teamwork and collaboration these days, I’m not sure in which direction. We can, however, measure the results by observing the difference in participation of women and men at various levels in the professional world, and in the relative compensation of women and men.

Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean People Aren’t Out to Get You

Back in the 1970’s women represented only 10% of the musicians in an orchestra. That number has risen over the years to over 35%, and a Princeton University study in 2000 found that a big chunk of that gain was due to the switch to blind auditions. When the decision-makers can’t see whether the musician is a women or a man, more women are hired. A study by The Anita Borg Institute on the recruitment, retention, and advancement of technical women found that women are sometimes preferentially eliminated during the resume review process, even if the interview process is unbiased. Another study specifically comparing evaluations of resumes by randomly assigning a woman’s name found that resumes bearing a woman’s name were rated lower by both women and men. (Perhaps women should use initials instead of first names on resumes, or hiring managers should have the names masked before reviewing them.)

Of course we’re all biased in many ways. All human beings are. Our assumptions and beliefs unconsciously influence our decisions, and our brains are clever enough to keep this process hidden from us so that we think we are making rational decisions based on the facts. Don’t think you’re biased? You can find out in about 15 minutes. Harvard University’s “Project Implicit®” provides a test in exchange for using your data in their studies. You will be randomly assigned one of a variety of bias studies, but you can repeat the process to experience them all. Based on experimenting with this several years ago, I found that I have a slight tendency to associate technical topics with women. Go figure!

According to US Department of Labor statistics, only 10% of employed engineers were women at the turn of the century (2001). And while the salary differential in engineering has largely disappeared, the employment differential remains large in all but the life sciences. Even project management remains a profession with some degree of gender disparity, in both employment and pay. The 2010 PMI Salary Survey suggests that only 40% of US project managers are women (based on survey respondents), and that the salaries of women project managers are “considerably lower” than that typical for men (about 10%). Karen Klein’s 2005 article “It’s a Women’s World, Too” does make the point that women are entering the project management profession at rates around double that of men, but still acknowledges that female project managers face barriers to success that are peculiar to women, such as excessive humility and a tendency towards self-criticism.

The Road to the Top Winds Uphill All the Way

In spite of the possible risk, and because I’m past typical childbearing age (something executives admit is a real barrier for women in hiring and promotion in off-the-record true confessions), I’m less inclined to eschew my feminine qualities in my work these days. I’ve found that these qualities have become increasingly valued for their importance in delivering extraordinary business results. The incredible diversity of teams, increased focus on alliances and partnerships, the growth of open innovation, crowd-sourcing, and collaboration on a massive scale (facilitated by the internet), have all made people keenly aware of the power of group genius and the importance of a more collaborative style of leadership. I’ve noticed that the work I do as a project manager increasingly involves facilitating interaction rather than giving direction; perhaps it was always about that and I just didn’t notice because I was suppressing my nurturing side.

It turns out that female versions of leadership improve bottom line business results. In a 2004 Catalyst study, companies with a higher proportion of women on their top management teams enjoyed a 35% greater ROE (Return on Equity) than those with the lowest. Although I’m wary of the trap of stereotypes, in the past couple of years I began to wonder if maybe women and men really do lead in some fundamentally different way. And, with more profit at stake, I hope it’s something that can be learned by anyone, even nurturing-averse me.

There are plenty of pop psychology discussions about gender differences, including the somewhat unimaginatively titled “Are Women Better Project Managers Than Men” on the Toolbox for IT Project and Program Management Blog. Puh-LEESE! This kind of conversation is similar to my Japanese friends asking me to describe Americans. “Which one?” I ask. Like all simplistic questions, the answer to whether men or women are better project managers is, “It depends.” It depends on which woman, or which man, and which project, and in which situation. While statistics can help us understand trends in the aggregate, it’s foolish to apply that data to any specific individual or situation. Those who carelessly apply averages to individuals do both parties an injustice. Let’s not deepen the gender divide by participating in these kinds of debates. Instead, let’s look at facts.

Is there gender bias at work in project management, and the business world in general? In my project leadership role I make it a practice to focus on the results produced, not the intentions of my team. Customers care about results, not intentions. I think the same approach may work well in this situation. I have no real way of knowing whether there is bias in the process, but I do know that there is a difference in the outcome—the participation and compensation of women relative to men. The measurable data from Catalyst certainly demonstrate a disparity:

  • Percentage of women in the U.S. labor force: 46.3%
  • Percentage of women in management, professional and related occupations: 50.6%
  • Percentage of female Fortune 500 corporate officers: 15.4%
  • Percentage of female Fortune 500 board seats: 14.8%
  • Percentage of female Fortune 500 top earners: 6.7%
  • Percentage of female Fortune 500 CEOs: 2.4%

Of course, root cause analysis is important, but the root cause of being overweight has been well known for years and still I can’t lose 5 kilograms. I personally don’t care whether the remaining disparities between women and men in project management—and the business world in general—are a result of accident, unconscious bias, or a devious plot. The causes no longer interest me. Making and measuring progress does. What’s measured tends to get attention, and frequently improves.

The Coming Shortfall in Working Age Population in the Developed World

Based on a report by the Stanford Center on Longevity, (PDF) it looks to me like it’s in all of our best interests to make workplaces more attractive to human beings in general, and—in fields where they are under-represented—to women in particular. In a decade or two, the shortage of working-age people will be an economic crisis in some parts of the world. Japan and Germany in particular will face at least a 20 percent shortage in the coming decades. (That’s why I don’t worry about women’s equality in the workplace in Japan—it’s coming!) We’ll need everyone’s participation if businesses are going to successfully meet the challenges facing humanity.

The Anita Borg Institute found that technical women leave their companies in mid-career at twice the rate of men. (Read more about this and the reasons why in this PDF if you like.) Companies are losing women, especially at the mid-career stage. Catalyst reported that women cite four major reasons why companies lose female talent: “lack of flexibility (51%); glass ceiling issues (29%); unhappiness with work environment (28%); and feeling unchallenged in their jobs (22%). Only 5% report being downsized and only 3% say they were victims of sexual harassment.”

Of course, the workplace isn’t all that hospitable to men either. A 2007 Gallup Institute study on wellbeing concluded that 77% of all workers hate their jobs. HATE! Wow. That’s much worse than being unhappy with the work environment or feeling unchallenged in a job. I’m no expert at organizational development or the link between worker satisfaction and profit, but I’m guessing this is NOT good for project success or bottom line profits. A little more nurturing probably wouldn’t hurt any of us, or our chances for project success either.

If Being More Nurturing Will Increase Project Success, Bring on the Nurturing!

I was educated as a scientist, and if I were just looking at past data I’d conclude that expressing my so-called feminine side in the high-tech business world would put me at a bit of a disadvantage. But that’s kind of like driving while only gazing into the rearview mirror. With almost everyone hating their jobs, increased emphasis on collaboration, and the coming shortfall in skilled workers, I’m thinking that a more nurturing work environment is going to be a competitive advantage.

In fact, I’ve been experimenting with a more nurturing approach in my work in Japan, and it’s yielding excellent results: noticeably improved performance in various individuals, faster response to my requests, and more enjoyable working relationships. It’s working so well that I’m tempted to try it out on this continent. My only concern is whether it’s possible to be both scrappy and nurturing at the same time. Considering the potential 35% higher ROE, I’ll have to give it a go purely for financial reasons.

Nurturingly yours,

– Kimberly

P.S. Scrappy Women in Business – Living Proof that Bending the Rules Isn’t Breaking the Law, is available on Amazon. This book, and the associated website invite women to draw inspiration from each other’s stories. It’s just a small drop in the bucket, but it is one drop.

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About the Author

Kimberly Wiefling is the author of one of the top project management books in the US, "Scrappy Project Management - The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces", and the founder of Wiefling Consulting, LLC, a scrappy global consulting enterprise committed to enabling her clients to achieve highly unlikely or darn near impossible results, predictably and repeatedly. Her work focuses on keynote speaking and workshops on practical and sensible business leadership and project/program management scaled for the size of the company and the project. She has worked with companies of all sizes, including one-person ventures and those in the Fortune 500, and she has helped to launch and grow more than half a dozen startups, a few of which are reaping excellent profits at this very moment. She spends about half of her time working with Japan-based companies that are committed to developing truly global leaders. Kimberly holds a B.S. in Chemistry and Physics from Wright State University and a M.S. in Physics from Case Institute. She spent 10 years at HP working in product development project management and engineering leadership. She worked with several startups, including a Xerox Parc spinoff where she was the VP of Program Management. In 2001 she launched her consulting practice and never looked back. She holds a certificate in project management through UC Santa Cruz Extension, where she is an instructor in the Project and Program Management Certificate Program. Kimberly spends about half of her time facilitating leadership, communication and execution excellence workshops for leaders of Japanese companies committed to becoming truly global. Thousands of people have viewed the hysterical video documenting the final phase of completing her book at www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDCJBu3rdvk. You can reach her via email at kimberly@wiefling.com
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