For many career women success means achieving not just professional recognition but also a fulfilling family life and personal happiness. But what is the price is paid by a career women and other women leaders in the diversity of culture they represent? There are many different answers to this question and the diverse cultures are key. My answer comes from the perspective of a Latina working for a Fortune 500 company who also constantly feels the need to challenge cultural differences in leadership styles. At the same time, it’s coming from a person who looks for life work balance, whether that means enjoying time in the kitchen cooking my favorite traditional cuisine, or impressing upon my children the value and importance of their multicultural background.
Most people don’t change, or willingly go along with change, because the change is “the right thing to do.” They do it if there is an important reason to change. Businesses don’t change their corporate cultures so that they retain women because doing so is nice for women. They do it if there is a compelling business reason to do so. The bottom line reasons to achieve gender diversity in leadership are exactly that—compelling.
Women leave their jobs at a higher rate than men. This is confirmed by data from the Bureau of Labor and by private research. There are three reasons business leaders need to understand why women leave. All are reasons to engage women so they’ll stay:
1. Turnover has a significant cost—estimates range between 50 and 200% of annual salary (plus negative impact on morale and performance).
2. Fully half of the total workforce and of the hiring pool (more than half of the educated hiring pool) is female—so the group at greatest risk of leaving is large.
3. Gender diversity in leadership has been correlated with higher returns (see studies by Catalyst and McKinsey); if you are losing women, you are probably losing the upside of gender diversity.
Although there were first ladies before her, Dolley Madison was the woman chosen to give the role of the First Lady of the White House, the prestige the title enjoys today. A widow, who at the age of twenty-five that had already experienced the ravage death leaves behind within her own family with the loss of her husband and her youngest son, this woman would set up the ceremonial and social protocol in the newly built White House in Washington D.C.
If you write a book about something that is little known, you have to be prepared for questions. Some will be silly and trivial, some will be deeper: but there will be questions. I wrote about Iran. Immediately I learned that many Americans know little about that country and its culture. Many of the questions I have been asked have been about the women of Iran. They seem so different from the women of America, so different and so very hard to comprehend.
The U.S. faces an increasing shortage in the STEM workforce: employment in STEM occupations is expected to grow 17 percent by 2018, while the number of college graduates in STEM fields continues to decline. In 2009, just 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded were in STEM fields, down from 24 percent two decades ago. Even more alarming: the gender and racial gap within the STEM workforce continues to widen. While women comprise 49% of the college-educated workforce, only 14% of engineers are women and just 27% are working in computer science and math positions. Similar disparities exist for Hispanic and African American workers, who account for only six percent of STEM workers. Recently it has come to light that the number of girls that are majoring in Computer Science has drastically dropped in the past 15 years.
One of the many benefits I enjoy from writing this column is that I get to stir stuff up from up here on my, shall we say, “perch.”From here, I get to rant and rave, sprinkle dashes of the uncomfortable into conventional wisdom and comfort zones, take folks dangerously close to the edge, leave them suspended Wile E. Coyote-like midair, then lasso them in before they plunge over the cliff into the “diversity dangers” that may lurk below. From here, I also get to do some vigorous backpedaling, or source attribution when I need to pass the buck if things get a tad too hot or have the potential to backfire on me.
Religion has long institutionalized the subservience of women. Today’s woman fights for tangible equity as a way of claiming equality, but will never fully succeed until the root of the problem, religion, either alters its interpretation, or is no longer considered a reputable source of societal authority. Because religion structures the family, hence society, the elimination of sexism must proceed concurrently with the eradication of archaic attitudes within the churches, and servile innuendoes within the home.