WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE
By Chet Yarbrough
American women in the workplace pursue equal rights. An irony of that workplace chase is that women are disproportionately represented in executive management and on corporate boards when women are America’s primary buying force in a consumer-driven economy.
(Sheryl Sandberg speech about women in the workforce at the TED conference:http://youtu.be/18uDutylDa4.)
Las Vegas is a premier example of a market that can hugely benefit from women in executive positions. Retailers like the Miracle Mile Shops, at the center of the Las Vegas Strip, show that hiring women in executive positions is good business. The Senior Director of Marketing for Miracle Mile Shops is Wendy Albert.
Wendy Albert reports directly to Miracle Mile Shops’ ownership group, David Edelstein and Aby Rosen. Albert explained that promotion in a marketing company starts with hard work and passion. She said, “Interest and passion drive women to executive promotion in any industry, whether it is finance, healthcare, entertainment, or retail.”
Albert has a point. Interest and passion are important to every person that wants to advance in an organization because it motivates performance in oneself and in those around you. Albert said, “I love the retail industry, so this position is a perfect fit.” She explained that at the Miracle Mile Shops she works in many different areas including advertising, public relations, social media, promotions, merchant relations and leasing. As a leader in these areas, Albert injects her interest and passion to improve performance of everyone around her. Albert explained, “At Miracle Mile Shops, we have to make all these (disciplines) work together in order to create the ultimate shopping, dining and entertainment destination.”
When Albert was asked about opportunity for advancement in Las Vegas, she said, “I think Las Vegas is a great place for women.” She explained, “I realize how important it is for women in the workplace to support and help each other succeed.” Albert is a role model for women in executive positions having spent 20 years in marketing at nine different shopping centers. Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook and author of the best seller “Lean In”, explained in her 2010 TED conference that role models are one of the three most essential needs for increasing the number of women in executive positions. The other two are the will to lead and life balance.
Albert certainly shows her willingness to lead. She said, “In 2001, I moved to Las Vegas because I was offered the position of Senior Director of Marketing at Desert Passage (now Miracle Mile Shops).” When Albert arrived she explained, “I’d recommend taking on new challenges, whether that be offering to take the lead on a new project or taking time to suggest improvements for a system already in place.” In Sandberg’s characterization of women executives, Albert “leans in”.
Though Albert shows that women can achieve executive level positions, only a small number of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. In 2011, only 18 women are Chief Executive Officers in Fortune 500 companies (Forbes Magazine reported women CEOs dropped to 12 in May of 2011). Additionally, women hold only 15.7% of board seats in Fortune 500 companies.
Why do most major companies fail to advance capable women to upper management positions? What is holding women back? It is certainly not education because more women than men graduate from college in America. It is also not smaller numbers of women working in corporate America. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, women nearly equal men in work force numbers with less than 30% of executive positions. With better education, improved child-care facilities, better corporate acceptance of flex-work hours, employment legislation, maternity leave, and marginally improving male acceptance of family responsibilities, more women are choosing to pursue corporate careers without proportional success.
Since WWII women have become increasingly important to American productivity but before the Great War, most women stayed home. Another explanation is the competitive nature of business. Men have traditionally held most executive positions; some are competent; others are not, but men have been in the arena of competition longer.
Competent executives are not doers of things but developers of people. Change comes in well-managed companies that realize developing one’s replacement is an opportunity and not a threat to one’s position. Not accepting that management belief creates fear in the executive office. Less competent executives and supervisors are threatened by competent subordinates rather than energized by liberated management time.
When a good manager has a competent subordinate, less time is required to assist or mentor that upcoming executive. Less time needed for mentoring that subordinate leaves more time for development of others. Companies that wish to be competitive must capitalize on human resources based on what people can do that positively contributes to company profitability. If a subordinate can do part of an executive’s job with less supervision, competent executives move on to other management opportunities; i.e. he/she is than able to spend more time with other potential superstar managers. Part of the reason for women’s proportionate disadvantage is late arrival in the executive arena; i.e. they are competing with men that have been in the arena longer and in greater numbers.
Another argument for women’s lag in executive positions is that there are not enough role models; e.g. an April 23, 2013 special section of the New York Times is headlined “Wall Street Makes Progress, but Lack of Role Models Impedes Equality, Say Female Executives.” Not that there are no role models:
America, like most of the world, is unconscionably patriarchal rather than gender neutral–beginning
with religion and continuing through most governments and economies. The Catholic Church says women cannot be clergy. God is a man in Christian, Jewish, and Moslem religions. Christian teaching says a woman comes from the rib of a man and that man fell from grace because of Eve’s betrayal of God’s law by biting the apple of knowledge and offering it to Adam. Traditional Judaism says women are separate but equal but in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court suggests that “separate but equal” is inherently unequal. The Muslim’ Koran says men maintain women and women are to be devoutly obedient to men, inferring inequality.
Women did not have the right to vote in the United States until the late 19th century. The U.S. Constitution did not pass the Nineteenth Amendment, which guarantees the right to vote, until 1920. The United Kingdom did not allow women to vote until 1918 and then women had to have property and be at least 30 years old. All of these examples explain why women’s position in the corporate world is more often challenged than supported by demographic reality.
Advance of women in business and their disproportionate representation in the executive office goes beyond the patriarchal history of humankind. There is competition, the human drive for money, power, and prestige. Good management skill alone is not enough for promotion.
Human development in business is not about gender but about productivity. Humans, male and female, have strengths and weaknesses. Good managers build on strengths and work around weaknesses by organizing human and technical resources to maximize results. These fundamental business truths will eventually level the playing field for executive promotion. Men are neither from Mars nor women from Venus; i.e. all have a drive for money, power, and prestige which are the sine quo non for profit. Business women that demonstrate the ability to get things done without supervision should and will be paid, praised, and promoted for the same reasons as men–improved productivity. When women are not treated equally, productivity is diminished by the loss of an equivalent and possibly greater source of competent managers.
It is important to understand demographics for corporations and governments to capitalize on change. Women are nearly half the work force in America. Corporations and the government must change business policies and practices when it is more difficult for women to receive equal pay for equal work. Attempted government action is illustrated by the 2013 Paycheck Fairness Act that recently failed (for a second time) in the United States’ Congress.
If child care interferes with corporate advancement, then corporations need to create an environment that allows parents to choose how they will share child-care responsibility. If both husband and wife are pursuing executive careers, each bears the burden of family responsibility equally. To the extent that government and business can help husbands and wives make family decisions by offering child-care services or family counseling, the nation’s economy is benefited. In 2012, Fortune Magazine reports that “Nearly a third of Best Companies offer a onsite child-care center.” The Las Vegas Review Journal offers family counseling as part of their medical benefits plan for employees. Companies like Stephens Media, the owner of the Review Journal, realize that hiring an employee is an investment in a whole human being, including the person that is part of a family that competes for an employer’s time and attention.
Choosing to pursue executive management positions and getting the job are two different realities but the bar for success is set higher for women than men. The bar is higher for women because of patriarchal history but also because of changes in post-industrial economies, the relative late arrival of women in the workplace, and fewer female role models.
Some argue that it is because women have familial responsibility that interferes with work commitments. That is a weak argument. Other than the act of birth, family responsibility is the same for both parents—one day, or one week, or one month of absence from work hardly interferes with a worker’s contribution to a company. Not to mention, some women choose to have a career; not have children and not become mothers. The ridiculous suggestion that mothers have to be primary care-givers for children is borne from cultural bias.
Women may represent the greatest market opportunity of 21st century working America. Women dominate consumer choice while slowly gaining corporate management experience. With an economy dependent on consumer buying decisions, one supposes women have a better understanding of consumers than men. With value conscious input about consumption and gained experience in business management, women can improve corporate contribution-to-fixed-cost (aka profit). Unfortunately, only a small percentage of corporate management acts as though they understand that opportunity. Statistics suggest Corporate America fails to endorse employment practices that provide equal opportunity for women in executive management.
Women, just as men, have earned the right for promotion in business based on a level playing field. Executive management skill is learned. It is not a privileged domain of gender.
(A Version of this Article is Posted in the “Las Vegas Review Journal” 4/21/13)