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Women have come a long way in the business world – breaking through glass ceilings, demanding equal pay, and giving men a run for their money when it comes to entrepreneurial success. So, why is it that only 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs in 2013, dropping from 14 percent just a decade ago?
According to a 2011 study by McKinsey Quarterly on the dwindling numbers of women in senior positions, women account for roughly 53 percent of entry-level positions, but they somehow only representing “37 percent of middle-management positions, 28 percent of vice-president and senior-level roles, and 14 percent of seats on executive committees.” Additionally, the study found that males are twice as likely to be advanced in ranking than females at each step of climbing the proverbial corporate ladder.
One of the ladies fortunate enough to make the list, Marissa Mayer made headlines after she accepted the position of CEO at Yahoo! and announced that she was pregnant with her first baby shortly thereafter. Critics suggested that Mayer wouldn’t be able to perform her new CEO duties now that she was pregnant, even questioning what would happen to the company after her baby was born. To add to the negative spotlight, Mayer was later chastised for her “come-hither” pose in a layout for her August 2013 interview with Vogue magazine where she candidly opened up about “office life, motherhood, and what it takes to be the CEO of the moment.”
While some critics said Mayer was too young to run such a big company, others chimed in to give their two cents about her being too attractive to be a CEO for a Fortune 500 company. Why should it matter whether the media thinks Marissa Mayer is too young or old, or too attractive or unattractive? We don’t remember hearing whether Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Welch were attractive enough to hold their ranks in the business world.
The double-standard for top-performing women in the business world is ridiculous. Nowadays, there is enough pressure on young girls to be the prettiest and most popular in their class, but little emphasis on them making something of themselves later on in life. Fast forward to college graduation and entering the working world. Women have it much harder than men to perform and earn their place within a company. In fact, the Mckinsey Quarterly study found that males are twice as likely to be advanced in ranking than women at each step of climbing the corporate ladder.
Sometimes, when a woman is hired, it is assumed that she must be abnormally intelligent, or maybe has an internal connection within the company, or is attractive. It’s as if there must be some logical explanation as to why this "non-male" candidate was awarded the opportunity over a man because the fact that she is well-qualified and educated just isn’t believable enough. These false assumptions put pressure on women to prove themselves.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, suggests that young girls and seasoned females need to “lean in” and take ownership of their success, rather than sitting in the shadows and watching their male counterparts take all the credit. Sandberg also states, “As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home,” meaning equality between both genders needs to exist in the workplace as well as the home.
One solution to eliminating gender inequality is to understand that change will only happen if both genders shift their thinking to accept that the other is equally capable of attaining success. Women should change the insecure I-am-not-good-enough-or-pretty-enough mentality and take ownership of their accomplishments and move on from their failures. Men can move forward by recognizing the privilege that exists in their gender and fight against stereotypes that belong back in the fifties. We will get nowhere if we blame each other, but we will make leaps and bounds if we encourage one another.
“In the future there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
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