The Only Skirt in the Boardroom

By: Fred Coon, Chairman, CEO

What are the major challenges facing high-profile female executives in the workplace? More often than not, regardless of whether any of us will admit to having witnessed gender biases in the workplace, women – particularly those serving in or pursuing senior level management positions – are feeling the pressure of being the only skirt in the boardroom.

One of the hot-button topics that captured the American public in the Summer of 2012 began after Princeton University professor and former State Department Director of Policy Planning, Anne-Marie Slaughter, wrote an article for The Atlantic called, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” The issue of being able to strike a balance between a successful professional career and a satisfying home life has polarized women across multiple population segments. Older women are beholden to the conviction that women can have it all, while fewer younger women seem to have that same faith. As well, women in high-ranking, influential positions tend to agree with those younger women – that sacrifices must be made in one area or another if there is to be substantial success or promotion in either area aspect of life. That’s not so hard to believe, is it?

Forty years ago, one would be hard-pressed to find a woman who could qualify for a credit card on her own, let alone one who was a serious contender for a C-level executive position. A woman who got pregnant was more likely to lose her job than to keep it. While women’s rights have certainly made leaps and bounds, the fact of the matter is, the generation of human talent currently holding senior positions in many companies vividly remember the time when society agreed a woman’s rightful place was in the home.

The Ongoing Challenges for Female Executives

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Less money for the same job. It’s a fact that female executives generally have to compromise in areas where their male counterparts do not. In addition to familial expectations, there are professional responsibilities which must be met and exceeded for female executives to make equivalent professional strides with male executives. Men still earn an average of 23% more in wages than women holding the same position with the same responsibilities. For more insight, read Bloomberg article,”Best-Paid Women in S&P 500 Settle for Less Remuneration.”

Likeability. Many female executives aim to demonstrate competent, confident leadership without being perceived as hard-nosed women, which can disrupt the collaborative efforts of any team environment. The unspoken expectation is that women should be likeable and agreeable, irrespective of their station in life, without taking into account that research shows female executives have a different leadership style than male executives.

Isolation. For women in senior management, it is unlikely that their colleagues are other women. Female executives can feel isolated without the support of high-level leaders who can empathize with them and provide solutions for some of the problems that are specific to women in management.

The good news is, steady progress is being made for women in leadership positions. As more women embark on careers in the C-suite, corporate culture will be molded to accommodate the shift. So exercise patience and expect a better experience for your daughters.