At DifferenceWORKS, we focus on the issue of gender diversity at the leadership level of the corporate world. This issue is important; businesses do better when co-led by men and women. And such businesses are more likely to be good community citizens and have a positive influence on the major issues affecting our planet.
Our area of focus, though, is at the tip of a large “iceberg.” We focus on the higher economic brackets of the most prosperous nations in the world. I pause to reflect on the larger context, the other levels of the issue.
First, the leadership level in the corporate world is not the only arena where women continue to be under-represented and under-compensated. The numbers in the corporate world (women are nearly half of all Fortune 500 employees but only 14% of executive officers and 8% of the highest paid) are reflected in other arenas. A national study by the Colorado Women’s College, University of Denver shows that women lag in both positional advancement and pay in academia, K-12 education, journalism, arts and entertainment, medicine, the military and the nonprofit sector. Corporate women are not alone.
Second, while women in business and many of these other sectors earn enough to be self-sufficient, many women do not. The Colorado-based study “The Status of Women & Girls in Colorado” by The Women’s Foundation of Colorado in partnership with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research” concludes,
“The persistent gender wage gap, women’s prevalence in low-paid and female-dominated occupations, the high costs of child and elder care services, and women’s relatively fewer hours of paid employment compared with men’s make women more vulnerable to poverty and more likely to face economic insecurity.”
In Colorado, families headed by single mothers have the lowest median annual income of all families. It falls far below the self-sufficiency standard (the amount necessary to support a family without public or private assistance). In 2011, 30% of women 18 and older had incomes near or below the federal poverty standard. The wage gap, according to this study, is actually largest among men and women with at least a bachelor’s degree. The numbers are far worse for women of color than white women.
This study also addresses personal safety and provides troubling statistics on domestic and sexual violence in Colorado. Violence against women is a global issue. Jimmy Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence & Power, addresses what Carter calls “the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge . . . the deprivation and abuse of women and girls.”
The challenges faced by corporate women exist in a world where women have far more serious challenges. I have to believe there are common causes, below and above the surface of this iceberg. In the corporate world, little remains of overt discrimination or conscious bias. The issues are more subtle; biases show up as unconscious mindsets. Even unconscious biases, though, have far-reaching and profound impact.
Do you agree that similar ways of thinking drive all these issues? Please comment below!
Glad to see you raising these issues, Carolyn. While it’s critical that women make progress at the higher levels of our society, those of us who have the privilege of education and status must continue to reach back and help those who don’t. Removing barriers for all women will create the systemic change we want for the world.
As you know, the status of women remains unacceptable at all levels, but below the professional ranks are millions of women stuck in bleak circumstances. And yet, our many of our government and political systems seem committed to keeping them there, reducing funding for education and family planning services.
I think most of us understand that women’s ability to change their own status is linked to their ability to access education – and that the widespread availability of contraception was a turning point for women to pursue education and move into the work force in dramatic numbers, starting in the middle of the last century. Yet today, we see corporations and politicians working to limit access to birth control, even to working women who would use their health insurance for birth control. The seemingly permanent controversy over abortion now includes contraception, as laws and restrictions and intentional miscommunication about the difference between the two, create barriers to birth control.
Access to either abortion or birth control remain unfettered to women of privilege in this country, albeit increasingly stigmatized for all women. Our poor, rural, and young sisters have seen barrier after barrier put in place in just the last few years. Progress won’t be real, meaningful or sustained until all of us are moving forward together.
Thanks for reminding us that we need to pay attention to more than our own careers.