It's not news that the percentage of women taking over the C-suite in America is crawling along. A vast majority of women and men concur that gender does not play a role in one's ability to lead a business. But there's one glaring reason that that simply is not the case, and it's the burden of biology.
Which baby do you nurture?
Men simply are not burdened by this dilemma. Women, on the other hand, conceive, carry and give birth to children. Women's reproductive window slams shut at the most crucial productive years for building a career. Not to say that women cannot have both – rewarding careers and children – just that, at the ages between mid-twenties and early-forties, it is very difficult to be simultaneously career-focused and successful at child-rearing.
Men working tirelessly on their career aspirations have their partner's unquestioned support. Maybe the day will arrive when scientists figure out a way to safely and effectively freeze eggs so that they are as good as sperm, made fresh on a daily basis. Until then, the great neutralizer of women and men being able to compete on a level playing field will remain on hold. Understandably, few women are reaching the upper echelons of corporate leadership.
Reaching the elusive pinnacle
Few women ascend to the top. Approximately only 25 companies in the Fortune 500 are run by women. 20 years ago, there were no female CEOs in the Fortune 500. Since then, women have only made slight progress in obtaining those authoritative roles.
The low number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 may be due to gender stereotypes that pervade the workplace.
Pew's survey found that 34% of the respondents believed that male executives are better than women at assessing risk. According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, a significant portion thought that men would do a better job at leading technology, finance, oil and gas companies. Approximately four in ten Americans point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of politics or business, where they must do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves.
Perceptions in political leadership...
Women are also more likely than men to say that female leaders in both politics and business outperform male leaders on most of the characteristics tested in the survey. The gender gaps in perceptions about political leadership are especially apparent. On traits like compromise, honesty, backbone, persuasion or working for the benefit of all Americans, women are more likely than men to say female leaders do a better job.
A solid majority of men state there aren't major differences between men and women in these areas. Nonetheless, they are somewhat more likely than women to give a nod to male leaders over female leaders on four of the five political leadership qualities tested in the poll.
Perhaps the answer lies in the gradual realization that equality is our destiny, and that corporate America has to come up with a viable solution that allows 50% of its talent pool to compete for 50% of its leadership positions – a strategy that would substantially improve our position in the global economy.
Did You Know?
- Male CEOs receive an average of $4,438,366.90 more in company compensation than female CEOs do.
- On average, women had more positions prior to their current role - 11 for women and 9 for men.
- Only 54 female CEOs feature in the top 1,000 highest-earning US companies in 2017. In 2014, there were 51 - that's a measly increase of three more female CEOs in three years.
- There are only three female CEOs in the top 50: Mary Barra (General Motors), Indra K. Nooyi (PepsiCo), and Virginia Rometty (IBM).
- Both male and female CEOs obtained their current executive position at the average age of 51.
- The top 54 companies run by male CEOs rank 480 places higher on average than those run by women - 29 for men, compared to 509 for women.
- Both genders had a heavy representation of MBA degrees, with 25 of the women and 21 of the men holding one. Outside of MBAs, engineering degrees were the most popular - 10 women touted them, and 13 men did.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.