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Women at Work: The Song That Never Ends

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

This past week the CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, has announced that she is stepping down. With her departure, that leaves just 23 women CEOs at S&P 500 companies. Considering women of color, that number goes down to one.

August 7 was also Black Women's Equal Pay Day, a sobering reminder that it takes black women eight months longer to match what white men earned in last year alone.

Despite women being more educated -- we have more degrees statistically than men and that’s been the case for more than 30 years -- we’re severely underrepresented in the top spots in business.

There are many reasons why that may be. As we know, women are paid much less than men (despite the educational advantage I noted earlier). According to the 2017 Women in the Workplace Study conducted by Lean In and McKinsey & Company, there are several other factors playing into the dismal state of women in corporate America:

  • Men feel like they get what they want without having to ask, while women feel less supported.

  • More than half of women do most or all of the work at home, compared to less than a quarter of men. It gets even worse when couples have children, regardless of who makes the most money.

  • Men are more likely to think the workplace is equitable, and that their companies are doing a good job.

  • Interestingly, men and women of color are more interested in becoming top execs than their white counterparts but as we know are far less represented.

These insights tell me quite a bit, and none of it is encouraging to be honest.

Men go to work walking into a system they created that is designed to benefit them. Of course they get what they want without asking and feel more support. It’s a system created by and for them! Women on the other hand, and Black women especially, have to come into a system that was in no way constructed with our success in mind. The fact that whites show less ambition but more success tells me that whites in corporate America are following a path laid out for them without even necessarily having a passion to do so! While blacks in corporate America have to fight harder to defy that system, and even then still can’t always overcome. Company leaders should create an environment that accounts for that discrepancy, but they don’t and then wonder why the issues persist.

The differences between interest and ambition aren’t what I thought they’d be. I was expecting to see that women are leaving the workplace at higher rates and have a lower desire to be top executives, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, even the most ambitious and educated ones -- Black women -- still aren’t getting in. There’s no way to describe that other than they're being actively kept or even pushed out.

I’d still argue based on the wealth of anecdotal evidence that there’s a higher level of burnout among women, who ultimately feel overwhelmed by the volume of odds stacked against them. In my next post I’ll explore burnout, especially among women in their 20s and 30s.

Then there’s the issue of clueless men who refuse to understand how our world is evolving. There was a time when men earned the money and women tended to the home. That time has disappeared. In the time and place in which society now exists, I cannot believe there is still such an enduring dedication to men being “breadwinners” and women being “homemakers.” Add to that the fact that most men see some women and a few brown faces in the office and consider the work on equality to be complete -- it tells me they are at best blissfully unaware and at worst willfully ignorant of the fact that the world has changed and they need to keep up.

Men, take the lead on household chores when your significant other is working hard. Assist your female family members or friends in growing in their companies. Stop accepting the status quo in your personal lives when the world around you is advancing.

The departure of PepsiCo’s CEO is the latest in a series of unfortunate news about women in business. Black and brown women are no nowhere to be found on the S&P 500 or Fortune 500 list of CEOs. Race aside, the number of women who remain is a paltry sum compared to the number of educated women in business. Even for the women who do make it, a new phenomenon called the glass cliff indicates that women are often brought it to tougher situations, making it even harder for them to succeed. At what point do we stop trying to make this system work for us?

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