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Posts Tagged ‘Catalyst’

I came across an interesting study the other day that found that, when it comes to independent work – freelancing, consulting, you name it – those indie workers are more likely to be women. According to MBO Partners’ Independent Workforce Index, some 8.5 million women are choosing to fly solo when it comes to work, making up 53 percent of all independent workers.

It’s all about work life balance and career satisfaction, the study found, adding that many of the women they surveyed are finding their choice to go it alone more rewarding than traditional work.

Sounds quite dreamy, doesn’t it?

But when you look beyond the numbers, you realize there’s more involved here than the entrepreneurial spirit or the freedom to go to work in your jammies — which, when you come right down to it, really isn’t all that dreamy. One reason for the growing number of women saying “oh, phooey” to the land of nine-to-five may speak to something beyond career satisfaction, and that’s the workplace itself, which still skews a little Mad Men, where, for every Don behind the desk, there’s a Betty at home to take care of business. (Okay, Betty’s been replaced, but you get my point.)

This especially hits women with kids. Back when we were reporting our book, we came across a relevant study by Joan Williams, who’s a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law and director of the Hastings Center for WorkLife Law. Her report, The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict, authored with the Center for American Progress, found that women with families were often marginalized or even pushed out when their jobs demanded 24/7 availability or when “full time” meant fifty hours a week or more.

In today’s workplace culture, that’s just about every job, right?

And then there’s this: while women make up close to half the workforce, they have yet to make their mark at the top of the ladder. According to the Catalyst 2011 Census:

women have made no significant gains in the last year and are no further along the corporate ladder than they were six years ago:
• Women held 16.1% of board seats in 2011, compared to 15.7% in 2010.
• Less than one-fifth of companies had 25% or more women board directors.
• About one in ten companies had no women serving on their boards.
• Women of color still held only 3% of corporate board seats.
• Women held 14.1% of Executive Officer positions in 2011, compared to 14.4% in 2010.
• Women held only 7.5% of Executive Officer top-earner positions in 2011, while men accounted for 92.5% of top earners.
• Less than one in five companies had 25% or more women Executive Officers and more than one-quarter had zero.

Phooey, indeed.

And don’t forget the “mommy track”—a term coined by the New York Times and based on an idea that Catalyst founder Felice Schwartz proposed in a Harvard Business Review article back in 1989. The term still stings. Schwartz’ article suggested that businesses could accommodate the growing number of working mothers by offering them alternative career paths. Good perhaps in theory, but in practice, what it meant was that women who bought into such arrangements were stereotyped as less serious about their careers. The upshot? Rather than corporate America changing structures to accommodate those who wanted/needed a life outside of work (um, all of us?), many women had the choice made for them and found themselves sidelined.

Still do. Which is why, I suspect many women, as as several sources told us and as MBO found, are thumbing their nose at the mommy track entirely and carving their own paths, often from their own homes. (One such “mompreneuer” is the quintessential Gen-Xer, Soleil Moon Frye—a.k.a. Punky Brewster—who cofounded an ecofriendly baby-products business called The Little Seed.) But what those women often find – whether or not they have kids – is that they’re always “on” – working longer, harder, faster –- often juggling several things at once.

We found other women who tried to make work work by cutting back to part-time. A report from the U.S. Joint Economic Committee showed that in 2009, some 17 million American women worked part-time— approximately one-fourth of all working women. And while part-time arrangements can be a good compromise, the bad news is that they not only present their own glass ceilings, but they pay less too. The report found that part-timers (nearly two-thirds of them are women) make less per hour than full-timers—even for the same work. And, as one bright thirty-something found, even the best part-time arrangement can have its own set of hazards.

A media liason who cut back when her first child was born, she thought she’d hit the jackpot when she negotiated a job-sharing gig: Two days in the office, one day working from home. But what she realized is that the flexibility had bought her a whole new set of hazards:

“My own expectations were too high,” she told us. “News seemed to hit on days I wasn’t in the office. I had only co-ownership over my position and therefore less power. And I seemed to disappoint my boss regularly, just by virtue of the schedule. It’s a tough adjustment to go from being a valuable team player to a part-timer who has to be out the door at five and won’t be in tomorrow. Also, there was no hope for advancement…”

And finally, there’s this: when you work at home, what you gain in flexibility, you sometimes lose in sanity. Trust me on this one. Back when my kids were young, I worked from home as a freelance magazine writer, and more often than not, I’d get a callback from a source right around five o’clock, known to parents everywhere as the witching hour. Once I flipped open my notebook, it was a cue to my kids for all hell to break loose. It often did. You can ask me about that sometime.

Then again — if you’re about to declare your independence — don’t.

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“I’m so sorry,” I said to my friend, over and over, every time I put anything into my mouth or even looked at any of the food I’d spent all day preparing for a small, impromptu New Years Eve gathering. She’s a vegetarian, you see, and I’d made somewhere in the vicinity of 14,000 relatively fancy “small bites”… nearly every single one of which contained some sort of seafood. Oh, the other thing? This friend–in town for a quick visit and packing in face time with several dozen of her nearest and dearest, some of whom I’d assumed she’d be ringing in the new year with–had texted me while my little festivus was already under way, essentially inviting herself over. She’s fun and spontaneous like that. And I was thrilled to have her! And she totally understood the gastronomic situation. And was as profusely apologetic as I.

…So, why was I apologizing?

Habit, I guess. I mean, I apologized to my dog this morning when I accidentally stepped on her paw, a gesture which was likely wasted, as the only words my she seems to register are “walk” and “kibble.” I say I’m sorry when I mean “excuse me.” I say I’m sorry when I mean “What? I didn’t catch that.” I say I’m sorry when someone bumps into me. I even, on occasion, say I’m sorry when what I really mean is “Screw you.

I suspect I am not alone. Women, after all, are notorious “hedgers.” And I wonder: when “I’m sorry” is as reflexive a verbal tic as “um,” what kind of toll does it take? Why are we so quick to cast ourselves the villains? To label ourselves “wrong?” To discount our own perspective? As though this were the proper thing to do? Sometimes an apology is warranted, of course, but when we offer one up without reason, what are we really saying? And what are we really apologizing for? Are we sorry for taking up too much space? For inconveniencing someone else? For being too something, or not something else enough? Or for being, at all?

What are we saying to the world about ourselves, and what are we saying to ourselves about ourselves? And why does it matter?

Interestingly, I got to thinking about the subject not because of the NYE non-incident, but because I was reading yet another item about the lack of women in the C-suite and the corporate inertia around making the changes that would get–and keep–us there, all despite the very real benefits gender balance in the highest ranks has been shown to offer. Caroline Turner writes in the VentureBeat piece:

Both Catalyst and the Center for Work Life Policy divide the causes of women leaving the business world into “pull factors” (like family care) and “push factors,” negative elements about the work environment or job. Two major push factors involve:

  • Acceptance: Women not feeling fully valued or accepted, and
  • Advancement: Women feeling they can’t advance or succeed.

There are two drivers of these feelings:

  • The “comfort principle” and
  • An unconscious preference for how leadership and excellence look.

…The builders of American business were primarily men. They got there first. It is natural that ideas of leadership and excellence have a more masculine than feminine flavor.

Studies show that “leadership” is associated with words that are characteristic of men more often than women. In fact, when women exhibit some of these traits, they are not favorably received. In evaluating a woman, men may find her approach unfamiliar and may judge her style rather than focus on the results she delivers.

Leaders can stop and notice whether previously unconscious preferences are influencing how they evaluate a woman. They can take the time to understand differences in masculine and feminine approaches, and the strengths and limitations of each. Then they can appreciate and value both.

Too reiterate–but not to put too fine a point on it, well, you know, as Turner writes and as we’ve been known to mention from time to time, the corporate world as it exists today was largely conceived and constructed by men. Once women got in the door, we quickly learned that we’d best play along with the boys in charge, do things their way. But that time’s come and gone–women make up half the workforce, and the world has changed. It’s our world, too, and it’s high time we stopped apologizing for our place in it and the way we see it.

Yes, the world is littered with structural inequities, biases, chauvinists and misogyny, but it’s our responsibility to speak up. When we keep quiet to keep the peace, when we apologize for who we are, we discount who we are, our perspective, our needs–all while our power to change things evaporates. And we deprive ourselves, our family, our companies and our world the perspective that is uniquely ours to offer. When instead of asking for what we want or saying that we see things a little differently, we question ourselves or keep quiet–or worse, apologize–what we’re really saying is that we don’t matter.

Does this seem like a stretch? Maybe it does. Maybe it is. But it’s my perspective, and I’m not sorry for sharing it.

But I do still feel kinda bad about the smoked salmon wontons. The fried oysters. The shrimp remoulade… Oh, who am I kidding? No I don’t.

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More than you might think.

Especially for us women, who are often sabotaged by words in ways most of us don’t even recognize.  Language, says Santa Clara University professor Laura Ellingson, an expert on gendered communication, can shape our thoughts and perceptions, uphold double standards, and reinforce stereotypes.

Half the time, we don’t even notice.

All this came to mind this weekend when I came across a piece in the New York Times by business writer Phyllis Korkki, who explored the reasons why women’s progress into the top tiers of the workforce had stalled. Many of those reasons related to entrenched — and often unconscious — sexism. No real surprises there. But one paragraph in particular caught my eye:

[Ilene H. Lang, president and chief executive of Catalyst] maintains that unintentional bias is built into performance review systems. Words like “aggressive” may be used to describe ideal candidates — a label that a man can wear much more comfortably than a woman.

More comfortably?  There’s an understatement for you. Which prompted me to start making a list of other ways in which words can keep us in our place.

One of the first contenders in my  double-standard category — after aggressive, of course –is “ambitious”.  An ambitious man is the type of guy most parents want their daughters to marry.  But an ambitious woman? Think Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada”.  The media tell us ambitious women are calm, cold and conniving.  They not only lose their friends, but their bedmates, too.  Which may be why, as longtime Vanity Fair contributing editor Leslie Bennetts once wrote in a piece titled “The Scarlet A” in Elle magazine, owning our ambition may be the last taboo:

Over the past three decades, I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most celebrated women: queens and princesses, senators and rock stars, moguls and movie legends, first ladies and fashion titans. Some were barracudas whose appetite for power would make Machiavelli look like a pushover, but only one ever owned up to being ambitious.

Ouch. Another double-standard for the A-list is “assertive.”  For men, that’s an admirable trait. When they step up and ask, they often receive.  For women? We often don’t bother to ask. And when we do, we run the risk of being tagged pushy.  You know, not feminine. Or, a little more charitably, “feisty”  Which itself is more than just a little demeaning.

Santa Clara University communication professor Charlotta Kratz, whose area is the portrayal of minorities in the media,  points out that performance evaluations are often based on the measurement of what are generally considered to be male traits.  Organization — think linear thinking — is one.  Another is the fact that while women process — we talk things through –  men act.  “Process is female, action is male, and the female talk gets looked down upon as unnecessary,” she says.

True, that.  And then there are words used to characterize our moods. When a male colleague goes wiggy on us, we’re likely to say “he’s lost it.”  As in, momentary aberration.  When a woman does the same, however, she’s often dismissed as “emotional” (read: bad).  Or “menstrual” (read: worse).  Or even menopausal (read: worse yet).  In any case, not to be taken seriously.

Let’s not forget the tear factor. When Speaker of the House John Boehner wept on “60 Minutes” a while back, he was “sensitive.”  When Secretary of State Hilary Clinton cried back in 2008 when she was on the campaign trail, she was portrayed as “emotional” — there’s that word again — as in not presidential.

Other double standards have to do with parenthood. As we point out in Undecided, studies show that a female employee who wears her mom-hood on her sleeve is likely to be perceived as a flight risk.  Other studies, however, show that when a man plays the dad card, his stock often rises.  He becomes a “family man”.  To wit: what a guy! What’s funny is that when that same mom stays home with the kids while dad takes a business trip, she’s, well, home with the kids.  Turn the tables, and dad is babysitting.

Language slaps our personal lives into submission as well:  A woman without a mate is either unmarried — as in, poor thing — or a spinster. Ugh.  A man in the same boat, however, is single. Or better yet, a bachelor. We all know what that means. He’s a catch.  Throw sex into the equation and we’ve got another humdinger of a double standard.  When it comes to bedroom action, as Jessica Valenti wrote in the first essay of her book of the same name: “He’s a stud, She’s a slut.”  Enough said.

The list goes on.  When a man takes charge, especially in the boardroom, he is forceful.  A good thing.  When a woman does the same, especially at home, she’s often called controlling.  Likewise, when a man pushes his staff to the limit, he’s a good leader.  His female counterpart? Excuse the term: A ball-breaker.  Even clothing carries its own weight.  As Ellingson points out, when a male prof wears an old pair of jeans to class, he’s cool.  When a woman does the same: sloppy.

Back to that piece in the New York Times, Korkki hits on another double standard that comes to kick us in the bank account: the ability — or lack of same — to self-promote.  It’s a plus for men, who are expected to “showboat a little.” But women? Not so much. We’re expected to be modest, to praise others instead of ourselves.  Or else we’ll take a dive on the likability scale. Which might, in fact, jeopardise our position. But you know what’s coming next: if there’s a promotion to be had, you can guess who’s most likely to get it.

Ahem.  Word.

 

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What’s the Occupy Wall Street movement–an ongoing, multi-city protest against corporate greed, cronyism and inequity–got to do with gender politics, you ask? I say: everything.

The movement’s rallying cry is this: We are the 99%. As in, 1% of the population holds the bulk of the wealth and the power in this country, leaving 99% of us struggling to find enough of either to survive.

How did that happen? A case can be made that this inequity is a result of a totally lopsided definition of power, and a completely unbalanced way in which it is valued and exerted in the world. In a world where, for centuries, men have held the bulk of the power and built the very structures of this society unchecked, it’s not difficult to see how we’ve arrived at this point: what we’re seeing is the result of an overvaluation of the masculine strengths–machismo run a-freaking-mok.

As Dr. Judy Rosener told us, there are significant–and proven–differences in the ways men and women operate when they find themselves in a position of power. (Yes, we know, we’re not supposed to say that out loud! After all, if we’re different, one must be better, and one must be…worse, right?) Chief among them:

Women view power as a means to an end to do something; men view power as an end unto itself. Women negotiate in a win-win manner; men negotiate in a win-lose manner.

In fact, the very definition of what it means to have power is a paradigm that’s now, I’d argue, ripe for a serious shift; one that integrates more of the Feminine aspect into the way that power is wielded in the world. When the word power is understood to mean “Power Over,” all but the most powerful are left to find an unempowered place within the system. Whereas another idea–”Power With”–might emphasize collaboration and the empowerment of others, a system that can foster a real sense of ownership and caring.

We dug deeply into this subject in our book, and the more we learned, the more we became convinced. There’s science to back up gender differences in behavior–and there’s statistics to show what happens in corporations where women are included in the highest ranks, the benefits that are reflected in the bottom line.

For example, did you know that, according to Catalyst, companies with significant numbers of women in management have a much higher return on investment? Or that when work teams are equally split between men and women, they are more productive?

Additionally, women are far more willing to go out on a limb and act as the conscience of their organizations. Yes, it’s long been believed that men are the natural born risk-takers, but according to Dr. Rosener, it depends what kind of risk we’re talking about. The kind of risk that one takes with the encouragement of an audience (think Deal or No Deal… or shortsighted shareholders) is the kind at which men tend to excel. The other, which Rosener calls “moral risk,” is the kind that one takes in spite of the audience’s disapproval. And this is the kind at which women excel.

The thing is, historically, women haven’t had much power or position in corporate America. Only a generation ago were want-ads segregated by gender. So it’s no surprise that, as Elizabeth Lesser, author and founder of the Omega Institute, told us:

The feminine has been left out of what we consider to be the most important way of exerting power in the world [and] it’s not thriving in many women, and it’s not thriving in men.

Nor is it thriving in the structures and institutions built by men.

Of course in the opening salvos of women’s migration into the workforce our strategy was to blend in: We were afraid (and rightly so) that if we came at an issue differently, we’d be seen as weak–or worse, tossed out of the boardroom completely. There was a time for blending in. But we’ve shown we can play their game. The time has come to change the rules.

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Recently, I came across a post on Daily Worth, a financial blog for women, written by a young woman who had just been offered a promotion at her daily newspaper: social media editor.  She was currently making $32,000, but after doing some research, realized that her new job was  worth $40,000.

So she screwed up her courage — her company was having a hiring and wage freeze, after all — marched in to see her boss, and negotiated salary:

Although I could feel the pressure, I said it would be hard for me to take the promotion for less than $36,000, and I’d have to think about it. That was tough to do because I consider my boss a friend, and I felt like I was letting her down personally. Still, I left our meeting without accepting or rejecting the position. The next day my boss called me with an offer of $35,500 plus a monthly cell phone stipend of $75, bringing the total to $36,400 annually. I accepted.

Happy ending, right?  Not by my math.  What about that missing $3,600?

As we’ve written before, we’ve become used to that seventy-seven cents on the dollar business. Used to it, but still peeved.  And really, it’s worse than that. In a study of University of Chicago MBA’s — which allowed labor economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz to compare “apples to apples”, controlling for everything from biz school courses to job experience to hours worked when it came to gender disparities — they wrote in New York Times Freakonomics column that for new MBAs, there was a just a modest wage gap — favoring men, of course — out of the blocks. But here’s where it starts to stink:

Fast forward 10 to 15 years, and the earnings gap between our male and female MBApples is about 40% for those who were observationally equivalent at graduation. But almost all of that huge difference can be fully explained by the greater number of career interruptions and lower weekly hours experienced by the women (mind you, they still work a large number of hours). One of the reasons for the large gap in earnings between male and female MBAs is that the cost of career interruptions is very great in the corporate and financial sectors. These costs are considerably lower in medicine, and somewhat lower in law and academia.

To be sure, for many women the time-out is a choice, and one that works well for them and their families.  Still, for those who jump back on the career ladder, they rarely make up for that lost time — or salary.  Still, though motherhood and lower-paying careers are convenient excuses, they’re handily debunked by Ilene Lang, who’s with the women’s research group Catalyst. “From their very first job after getting their MBA degree, women made less money than men,” Lang told NPR last year. “On average, $4,600 less.”

Very first job? MBA? Well, that settles the time-off-for-kids/lesser-paid-career-track thing. And Catalyst’s findings held even for women without children. For Lang, this says old stereotypes persist. “There are assumptions that women don’t care about money, which is crazy!” Lang said in that same piece. “There are assumptions that women will always have men who will take care of them, that women will get married, have children, and drop out of the labor force. All those assumptions are just not true.”

You mean we work for more than pocket money? But the numbers are worse than we think, according to the Center for American Progress: Working women in the United States lose, on average, $431,000 over a forty-year career. Women with a high school degree lose $300,000 on average, and women with a bachelor’s or graduate degree lose $723,000 on average. In fact, the analysis shows that the more educated and professional a woman may be, the more she loses over a lifetime of work, simply because of her gender.

But getting back to that blogger from the Daily Worth, we can’t help wondering if there is something else at play as well: we don’t speak up.  In fact, we grab that 77 cents on the dollar and say thank you very much — or, as that blogger revealed, feel as if we are letting someone down by asking for more.  Is it because we women are hard-wired to please? That we have a hard time shaking off the good-little-girl mantle? All of which comes back to bite us in the paycheck. Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, authors of “Women Don’t Ask” note:

* By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.

* Women often don’t know the market value of their work: Women report salary expectations between 3 and 32 percent lower than those of men for the same jobs; men expect to earn 13 percent more than women during their first year of full-time work and 32 percent more at their career peaks.

And in most cases, men do. As we wrote on Equal Pay Day, a non-holiday that marks the date in April that women’s salaries catch up with their male counterparts’ (That’s right, as compared to the dude in the next cube, from January 1 until April 14, you, sister, were working for free): Every time we change jobs and are asked for a salary history, we’re at an increased disadvantage–and coupled with this gender-based pay discrimination disparity, well–that disparity is going to do nothing but get worse.

Sigh.

Just yesterday, I was talking with my big sister.  She was asking about our book and I was grousing about the fact that, in today’s publishing climate, authors have to do a lot of self promotion.  “I hate it,” I moaned.  “And I’m no good at it.”

She smiled, obviously older — and wiser too. “If you were a man,” she said, “you wouldn’t have a problem with it, now would you?”

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This post first appeared on last year’s Equal Pay Day, but, frankly, we think it’s worth repeating — especially in light of the women of Wal-Mart’s ongoing travails. And we think, once you read this, you’ll agree that their travails are your travails. Happy Equal Pay Day — and we encourage you to celebrate by asking for a raise!

Today is Equal Pay Day: and while the name implies equality, the meaning itself is its precise opposite. Working women of the world, brace yourselves, and prepare to be pissed: today marks the day that your salary catches up to your male counterpart’s… from last year. That’s right, as compared to the dude in the next cube, since January 1 of this year, you, sister, have been working for free.

Yes, despite the fact that it is 2011, despite the fact that the first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which extends the time employees have to file discrimination suits, despite the breadwinning Alpha Wives appearing in trend pieceshither and yon, despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was enacted oh, some 48 years ago, the fact remains: on average, women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar. (Even less for women of color.)

Here’s some more fuel for the fire, from a piece from yesterday’s Morning Edition on NPR:

Economists say part of the gap is because women are more likely to take time off work for child care, and an even bigger part is because of “occupational segregation”: Women tend to work disproportionately in lower-paying fields….

But even when you control for occupation and a host of other variables, economists still find an unexplained gender gap of anywhere from around a nickel to a dime or more on the dollar. [Emphasis mine.]

Yep, those convenient, fall-back excuses citing time off for kids or lower-paying career tracks are handily debunked by Ilene Lang, with the women’s research group Catalyst:

‘From their very first job after getting their MBA degree, women made less money than men,’ Lang says. ‘On average, they were paid $4,600 less.’

Very first job? MBA? I think that settles the time-off-for-kids/lesser-paid-career-track thing. Of course, the truly ugly thing about a stat like that is that, not only does it persist, it inevitably gets worse over time. Every time you change jobs and are asked for a salary history, you’re at an increased disadvantage–and coupled with this gender-based pay discrimination disparity, well–that disparity is going to do nothing but get worse. And that’s how it is that you’ve been playing financial catch-up for THE PAST THREE AND A HALF MONTHS.

But wait! There’s more:

Catalyst’s findings held even when those studied had no children. For Lang, this says that decades-old stereotypes persist.

‘There are assumptions that women don’t care about money, which is crazy!’ Lang says. ‘There are assumptions that women will always have men who will take care of them, that women will get married, have children and drop out of the labor force. All those assumptions are just not true.’

Of course they’re not. And yet, even if they were true–even if women didn’t care about money at all, and every one of us had a man to take care of us and the intention to stop working once we had children–well, would that in any way justify the inequities? I myself, as you may have guessed, think not.

How best to address the issue? Well, asking for more money is a start. A big one, and one in which many agree women might need a lesson. We don’t want to be rude, pushy, or assertive, but we don’t want to be broke, or the underpaid schmuck on the payroll either, now do we?

But, as with a lot of things, focusing only on the individual leaves a little too much unaddressed. There’s a bill pending in the Senate now, The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier to prove gender bias, increase penalties, and nix the hush-hushness that exists around salaries in an organization. In an open letter, Ms. Ledbetter herself writes:

Without the Paycheck Fairness Act, women will continue to be silenced in the workplace, just like I was–prohibited from talking about wages with coworkers without the fear of being fired. This forced silence keeps many women from discovering pay discrimination in the first place…

Now I know that some people will say that with times as tough as they are, we can’t afford to worry about pay discrimination now. But I’m here to tell you that this recession makes pay equity even more important. With women now making up half of the workforce, more and more families are dependent upon a woman’s paycheck to make ends meet.

So, happy Equal Pay Day! …and apologies for the rant, but I think you’ll agree it was warranted. If you’re inspired to take action, rather than taking it out on Dude-in-the-next-Cube, there’s a link to email your Senator here. And, I dare suggest that you do it while you’re on the clock: more than likely, your boss owes you.


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To pick up where Shannon’s post from Tuesday left off:   Here’s more evidence that the news of men’s untimely demise has been greatly exaggerated.  To wit:

If you happen to be a high school senior, live with one, or ever were one, you know what this coming week is all about:  Waiting by the mailbox for the envelope with the college logo in the corner.

But what you may not know is the dirty little secret inside that envelope:  If you happen to be a male, you’re more likely to get the fat one.  Affirmative action for males?  Yes, ma’am.   Which is to say, colleges want more men on campus, and many private universities that are not prevented by law from doing so are tipping the scales in their favor in the great admissions sweepstakes.

Women reached parity with men on campus in the 1980′s — when they were still called co-eds: go figure — and since then, their numbers have been steadily climbing to the point where some 60 percent of today’s college applicants are women.   And they are qualified.  By and large, their test scores are higher than males’, their GPAs are higher, and they often boast a heftier list of extra-curriculars.   But since hormonally-charged teenagers are likely to prefer colleges where the male-female ration is more balanced, what happens?  Ahem. You do the math.

This business about the hidden quotas first came to light about five years ago (more below) and became news again this week when an investigation into the issue by the Civil Rights Commission that began in 2009 was suddenly disbanded.  No one knows exactly why.   (Some speculate the investigation may have been called off because it muddied the waters relating to the Title IX provisions for parity in women’s sports — or the underpinnings of affirmative action itself — but that’s another issue.)

But back to the quotas, according to a recent piece by Richard Kahlenberg in Chronicle of Higher Education, here’s the backstory:

There has long been concern that some liberal arts colleges routinely provide admissions preferences for men in order to avoid large gender imbalances in their student bodies. Some argue that once a school becomes more than 60 percent female, it becomes unattractive to many  potential applicants, male or female.

The issue gained prominence in 2006 when a Kenyon College admissions officer wrote an op-ed in the New York Times openly acknowledging that “the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men.” For example, according to the Washington Post, the College of William & Mary admitted 43 percent of male applicants in the fall of 2008 and 29 percent of female applicants. An admissions officer told U.S. News & World Report: “It’s not the College of Mary and Mary; it’s the College of William and Mary.” Canadian medical schools, likewise, have recently raised concerns about educating too many women to become doctors. While many suggest that white women are the primarily beneficiaries of affirmative action, in most undergraduate admissions, precisely the opposite is true.

Ugh, right?  Since when did we decide that we should privilege a group with special preferences when that group has historically been, you know, privileged?  Oops.  Stop me before I go on.

Anyway, what got me all riled up today was this post by Susan Newman, Ph.D. in Psychology Today that cited a bunch of numbers on the lack of progress women had made in the workforce over the past few decades:

… the disparity between men and women in earning power, advancement, and titles runs deep and it doesn’t seem to be improving despite new laws and corporate awareness.

According to a survey, Pipeline’s Broken Promise, from Catalyst, a global organization that evaluates women’s progress in the workforce, “for the past two decades leaders have counted on parity in education, women’s accelerated movement into the labor force, and company-implemented diversity and inclusion programs to yield a robust talent pipeline where women are poised to make rapid gains to the top. But results of this study show that these hopes were ill-founded-when it comes to top talent, women lag men in advancement, compensation, and career satisfaction. The pipeline is not healthy; inequality remains entrenched.”

Fortune Magazine reports that in the top Fortune 500 companies, only 15 women are CEOs. Women with MBAs earn an average of $4,600 less than men with the same degree. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research revealed that pretty much across the board men continue to work in the highest paid jobs and when men and woman have the same job, men earn more. That holds true if the job is as a registered nurse or home health aide, teacher, or administrative assistant. Looking at some of the highest paid occupations–physicians and surgeons–male doctors have the income edge over women. Economist Linda Babcock and writer Sara Laschever point out another disturbing imbalance in their book, Women Don’t Ask: Women own about 40 percent of all businesses in the U.S. but receive only 2.3 percent of the available equity capital needed for growth. Male-owned companies receive the other 97.7 percent.

Now.  Look to the beginning of that so-called pipeline:  parity in education.  We’re there.  We’re better than there.  So what happens?  We’re being squeezed so that men can catch up.  Because, who knows, if there are too many of us around, that might one day translate to — gulp — equal pay.  Or even worse, a woman boss.

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