Why We Have Fewer Female Leaders
The New Hampshire Women’s Initiative chair Mary Jo Brown was one of several women business leaders interviewed in the cover story of Business NH’s latest issue:
Exploring the labyrinth women navigate to leadership.
A 2011 study of Fortune 500 companies found those with at least three women on the board outperformed those companies with fewer female board members by 26 percent when it came to return on investment capital. That’s according to Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on women and business. And a study by the consultant Zenger/Folkman in Utah of 7,280 leaders found that female executives and top managers outperformed men in overall leadership effectiveness 67.6 percent to 57.7 percent.
So in this hyper-competitive market, companies must be clamoring to find the best female talent, right? No. In fact, the majority of corporate executives have Y chromosomes and continue to earn higher salaries than women for performing similar jobs.
As of 2007, the latest statistics available, women owned 25.8 percent of NH businesses, according to The 2012 Status of Women and Girls Report in NH by the Women’s Fund of NH.
Analyzing the Gap
Women pass up or may be passed over for leadership opportunities for different reasons, says Mary Johanna Brown, chair of the NH Women’s Initiative and founder and president of Brown & Company Design in Portsmouth. “We heard this in listening sessions across the state,” she says of sessions held by the Initiative to hear about perspectives on gender equality, including women’s role in the workplace. “Some women feel this is because of continuing cultural bias,” Brown says. “Across the board, women are reporting that they have to work harder to be seen as a legitimate authority. Women also reported the challenge of cultural bias in the workplace once they became mothers. Employers would have preconceived notions about a mother’s ability to perform.”
Businesses, though, are realizing that as more women than men are pursuing college degrees, they need to adopt policies to attract and retain these workers, says Louise Rothery, executive director of The Northeast chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel in Massachusetts and a lecturer and author on women’s issues. Whether it’s allowing telecommuting, adjusting start times or more importantly, realizing that work/life balance is not a gender issue, companies are instituting family-friendly policies that could give women more opportunities to move up.
The question is, what do women want? A 2009 Pew Research Center study found that 62 percent of mothers who work full time would prefer working part time. “I think women more than men have to really assess how ambitious am I? You’ve got to make some very hard decisions and you certainly need to pick the right partner,” Rothery says of the need for a support system at home.
Family is an issue, but it’s not the only one. A 2009 survey of gender equity by the NH Bar Association found there is indeed a gender gap: Of the 5,000 NH attorneys surveyed, no women reported making more than $200,000 while numerous men did. Women also reported lacking opportunities for advancement, and not being involved in management decisions or choosing their cases. The survey found marriage and children weren’t impediments to advancement. “There was a feeling they were less empowered. That had become worse in the last 10 years,” says the study co-author, Beth Deragon, a shareholder and director at Gallagher, Callahan and Gartrell in Concord. She says as a result of the survey, the NH Bar Association is holding training sessions on work/life balance and company culture; pay inequities; and recruitment, retention and promotion of female attorneys.
Where women do own businesses, they are often smaller, and that presents its own challenges. In her work with female business owners, MaryAnn Manoogian, executive director of the Center for Women’s Business Advancement at Southern NH University, says women report trouble accessing loans. “Some women looking for start-up or growth funds say the lenders are looking to make $50,000 or $100,000 capital investments, while they are looking for $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000,” she says.
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