There are many excuses used to explain away the snail’s-pace progress for women at work, but the two most popular go something like this: It takes time to get women in the pipeline with education and experience. Or — don’t you hate when this happens? — those ungrateful women get jobs only to bail out because they can’t take the stress, want more free time for Pilates or miss staying home with the kids.
Let’s take that last one first.
New York-based Catalyst Inc., which does research on women in business, started tracking the progress of 4,100 full-time MBA graduates around the world in 2007, homing in on those it identified as “high-potential employees.” No matter how Catalyst sliced the data in its four reports on “high potentials” since 2009, men started with higher salaries — a pay gap of $4,600 in the first job out of school — and enjoyed larger increases each year.
To address the argument that women are dropping out of corporations because they want more personal time or less stress, Catalyst teased out just the men and women who aspired to be senior officers or chief executives of for-profit companies. They also compared only men and women who had no children to address the “mommy wants to be home with the kids” argument. In each case, men started out making more and advanced more quickly.
So much for the girls-can’t-handle-it argument. As for the pipeline argument, consider Pao. She had seven years of business experience, an electrical-engineering degree from Princeton University and a law degree and MBA from Harvard by the time she landed at Kleiner in 2005. She’s had a lot of female company accumulating the right pedigrees for years, too.
Women earned only 10 percent of undergraduate business degrees back in 1971, receiving 10,460 degrees compared with 104,936 by men. By 1985, women had increased that number tenfold; in 2002, women received more degrees than men. That doesn’t sound like an empty pipeline to me.
It’s time to shift the focus from trying to “fix” women, to trying to understand the subtle forces in organizations that may be holding women back, Christine Silva, a senior director of research at Catalyst, told me in a telephone interview.
Good idea. But part of the issue isn’t subtle at all.
Some employers just don’t want to hire women. Period. The biggest eye-opener I’ve seen in academic research to support that idea was a study in 2000 that tracked 26 years of auditions and hiring statistics for symphony orchestras.
Orchestras had come under pressure in the late 1960s to hire musicians in an unbiased manner, and began to conduct “blind auditions” where judges couldn’t see the person trying out. They literally performed behind a screen. In the end, professors Claudia Goldin of Harvard University and Cecilia Rouse of Princeton University found that a woman’s chance of being hired increased by 25 percent when juries were clueless about a tryout’s gender.
We could benefit from a corporate version of that blind-audition idea. Until someone figures out how that would work, my guess is we will keep rolling through lawsuit cycles of predictable allegations and ugly revenge strategies. Comb through the reader comments at the end of articles about Pao, and you will see that she is already getting a blast of a tried- and-true “nuts or sluts” attack that deems women who sue as either crazy or a little loose.