The days of the TV show “Mad Men”, which describes the sexist office culture of Madison Avenue in the 1960’s, are over – or are they? Overt gender discrimination is now illegal and increasingly uncommon. Today, unconscious gender bias is pervasive and embedded in the systems, structures and cultures of most of our organizations. Researchers call this second generation gender bias, and it operates unseen, beneath the consciousness of both men and women. This bias creates the glass ceiling, the mysterious barrier that denies women access to top levels of management.
Although women’s representation has increased in all aspects of society since the 1960’s, the advance toward gender parity has slowed in recent years. As the following graph shows, women hold over half of the professional-level jobs in Fortune 500 companies, but their representation in leadership roles lags significantly.
So if you are a man and are wondering how this affects you, hear this: The unfortunate truth about this gender gap is that it is BAD for business. It[K1] has been shown in numerous studies that when women represent a third or more of leadership positions, a company’s financial results improve, as measured by greater profits and higher shareholder value. This is referred to as the “30% Solution”, or the threshold at which women’s participation in business, government or non-profit leadership can make a positive difference. In addition to financial results, the 30% Solution increases flexibility in management approaches and contributes to broader definitions of success.
So what’s to be done about this sad state of affairs? I recommend three levels of action: First, at the individual level, then the organizational level and finally the societal level. Let’s examine each of these in turn:
From the desk of