Women in Business

The Economist has an interesting article about women in business. Why are there so few women in the top jobs?

Why is it proving so difficult for women to reach the top of corporations? Are they simply less ambitious, less excited by the idea of limitless (albeit first-class) travel, late nights and the onerous responsibilities imposed by mounting regulation? A 2002 survey of top executives in American multinationals around the world did find them to be less ambitious, at least for the very top job: 19% of the men interviewed aspired to be CEO, whereas only 9% of the women did. At a slightly lower level there was less difference: 43% of women hoped to join a senior management committee, compared with 54% of the men. Catalyst, on the other hand, says that its research shows that women and men have equal desires to have the CEO job. "Ambition knows no gender," says Ilene Lang, the president of Catalyst and once a senior executive in Silicon Valley.

I think it's a combination of things. First of all, upper level executives are usually mid-life or older, and there aren't as many women that age with the business and educational experience for the job. Once today's twentysomethings get to that level, the pool of qualified women will be bigger.

Is there a glass ceiling? problemably a little bit. But there is also the issue that some women don't want to be CEO. Take Mrs. Businesspundit as an example. She was valedictorian in high school and college, she has a CPA license, an MBA, and is on a good path to be a C-level executive in 20 years…except that she has no desire to do that. She doesn't think it sounds fun. She would rather work less, or not at all, and spend more time with the kids.

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We've talked before about why women don't want to be the boss, even though research shows women make better leaders, and more women equals a higher return.

This debate won't be solved anytime soon. But women will take top level spots more often as the nature of business changes. Too many men are focused on that work-till-you-drop ethic, and that doesn't work very well for knowledge workers. Burnout doesn't lead to creativity. If you do mindless repetitive work, then more work might equal more production, but for creative enterprises, more work can mean lower quality.

As the nature of work changes, the increasing number of women in the workforce will have a big impact on the future of business. I don't think we will ever see equal numbers of men and women at C-level spots, not because they aren't qualified, but because they just feel like Mrs. Businesspundit does. But we will see more over the next few decades, and with women in power to shape the working world, it will improve the situation and options for all working women. Those that want both family and career will have better options, and problemably won't be so penalized for taking some time off to start a family.