Friday, February 19, 2010

Addressing the real issue

Here is a Forbes article addressing the low percentage of women in corporate leadership positions. Instead of mistakenly blaming the small number of women CEO's on current sexism, it focuses on the real cause of women not making it to the top: motherhood.
Our survey results reveal that women tend to make many more compromises to their career paths than do their male partners. They are nearly twice as likely to take a flexible career path or a leave of absence and three times as likely to work part-time. The majority of promotion processes and career paths thus have a built-in biological bias, linked to the time women take off for having and rearing children. Some estimates show that more than 90% of women want to return but only 40% can find full-time jobs.

As a State Department employee for nearly five years, I ran into problems with its internal employee ranking system because of my first pregnancy. After my nine-week maternity leave, I was forced to go back to work full-time. The fact that the government was footing the bill to have me posted overseas meant that I couldn't work part-time. I understood that and was OK with it. But then, because employee evaluations are not allowed to include information about health issues, I was hurt professionally later by having one lackluster employee evaluation from the time when I was pregnant and on leave. It's difficult to do impressive things in your job when you're about to give birth or at home with a newborn, but no explanation of my health "problems" was allowed in my evaluation. Despite being "neutral", the system actually worked against me as I think it works against all mothers by not taking into account a temporary change in workplace productivity typical of females only.
I am curious to see the efficacy of some of the authors' ideas--not penalizing employees for taking more time to reach professional milestones after having children, encouraging stop-and-start career paths to the top--to facilitate women in progressing in their careers following the disruption of having children. Will those ideas help me at all a decade or two down the road or will I never have a full-time professional job again because of my decision to stay home now with little ones? I don't want credit for time I didn't work, but I don't want it to count against me that I'm much older than similarly-experienced and similarly-capable people who didn't take more time off to be with their own offspring. (I don't want to get into the "mommy wars"; it's simply that daycare during most of my children's waking hours is an unacceptable option for me.) I'm just one person, but given how many highly educated women we have now in our country, it seems a colossal waste of resources to perpetuate career structures that prevent women from returning to leadership-track employment once they are ready to return full-time.

1 comment:

  1. funny timing, i was just thinking again about how bitter I used to feel if I wasnt doing a job i was really good at .. . but now i'm spending my time raising my kids, not because i'm good at it, but because it needs to be done, as well as it can be done.

    But i never thought about a company or career as being 'fair' to the worker, for some reason I never got my head around that. I just want to be judged on my contributions . . . i guess i was never in a highly competitive career track. I do wonder if i'll ever find fulfilling full time work again . . . i expect to be around 55 when I'm done home schooling? eesh.