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Commentary: Balancing Gender Roles in Business

Posted on 8.02.2015

By Amberly Dressler, Managing Editor


Tech is a male-dominated field, there's no two ways about it. Visiting an "executive team" Web page can at times be comical with row after row of similar-looking men, with little to no females holding top roles.

In fact, 2014 data from the Center for American Progress indicates that in the information technology field, women hold just nine percent of management positions and account for only 14 percent of senior management positions at Silicon Valley startups.

Adding fuel to the fire, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the International Computer Science Institute found that setting a user's gender to female within Google's Ad Settings resulted in getting fewer instances of an ad related to high-paying jobs than setting it to male (read more at wsm.co/adsgenderbias).

Then, of course, there is the widely reported gender wage gap (the White House indicates that women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns). What's particularly interesting is that even within their own companies, women devalue their contributions.

Female small business owners are, on average, paying themselves 80 percent of the salary of their male counterparts, according to 2014 data from Goldman Sachs and Babson College. Something has to give, especially considering a 2008 McKinsey & Company study found that companies with the most gender diverse management teams have an average of 48 percent higher earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) than industry norms.

Despite the benefits of gender equality, it is clear that women are not only underrepresented in executive roles in most companies, but also underpaid.

What's to blame? It can't all be chauvinism, can it?


Girls Who Code & Other Gender-Gap Closers

Check out some of the progress being made in this industry at wsm.co/gapclosers


The high costs of child care recently got the nation's attention when President Obama addressed it in his 2015 State of the Union Address, spotlighting one family whose basic child care cost more than their mortgage - very typical for American families with dual-working parents.

According to a 2014 PBS.org article, in three out of four regions of the U.S., the cost of full-time center-based child care for two children is the highest household expense (data from the 2013 Census), often measured as about 40 percent of a mother's full-time salary.

Some believe more affordable child care would lead to more upward mobility for women - not forcing new mothers (although not all working women are mothers) to make the decision to leave the workforce because it's more affordable (just merely one reason a woman makes the decision to stay home, of course) - but this starts to become a political issue when the resolution involves deeper tax cuts and changes to business policy.

For the tech industry in particular, the answer may not be in Washington but rather closer to home. This month's focus on e-commerce is the perfect example. When interviewing a married, male executive about e-commerce or listening to one speak at a conference, there's a high probability his wife will somehow be mentioned in the conversation as an example. To some degree it makes sense.

Women are responsible for the majority of purchasing decisions in a household, so if there is a story to be told about commerce, these executives look no further than their spouses to relay how today's shoppers shop. Similar generalizations can be seen about other demographics, like millennials and baby boomers.

On the other hand, equating a sophisticated tech solution or business strategy to a wife's shopping "habits" can come off as sexist, especially when a quick glance at the executive panel reveals an all-male C-suite. Even if a "wife story" is proving the speaker's point about omnichannel, social commerce or whatever the e-commerce angle might be (these wife stories happen so often there are multiple available examples), quite often the only female representation is of a woman who is spending all of her "husband's" money.

Changing these conversations won't change everything (there is so much work to be done), but it's just one example of being more vigilant about a major issue in this industry and others.

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