Women in Business: A Complicated Picture, Studies Show

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In a follow-up to Stacy's story on the gender pay gap, two new studies raise more questions: Does having more women on a board of directors make a female CEO more likely? And why do men get jobs abroad four times as often as women do?

A couple of weeks ago, Stacy wrote Women Make only 75 Percent of What Men Make – Fact or Fiction? That story raised the issue of a White House report [PDF] which some people interpreted as saying that women make only 75 percent of what men make for the same work.

Stacy disputed that interpretation, and said, “The reason women have lower average earnings than men is a complex topic.” Two new studies complicate the picture even more.

One study, to be published in The American Economic Review later this year, is called “Chipping Away at the Glass Ceiling: Gender Spillovers in Corporate Leadership.” A preview of it notes, “Today, women account for nearly half of the nation’s overall workforce, but hold only 6 percent of corporate CEO and high-level executive roles.”

Analyzing 12 years of corporate board composrition in terms of the members’ gender, co-author David Matsa of Northwestern University concludes – loosely – that having more female members on a board of directors means a greater likelihood of women being promoted to executive levels. Interestingly, though, “the reverse situation is not true: Having female executives in top roles did not impact the gender makeup of corporate boards over time.”

The study itself sounds interesting – but so does the description of it, which casually mentions “co-author Amalia Miller” but only quotes and depicts the male Matsa. Women and academia is a whole other ballgame, I guess…

The other study [PDF], from British recruitment and consulting company Hydrogen Group, finds that even though an equal number of men and women want to relocate internationally for business opportunities, men are given such positions four times as often. The study points out that “international experience [is] a significant advantage to climbing the career ladder for any senior manager in today’s global marketplace,” one which not enough women are getting.

How come? Some of the other findings offer glimmers…

  • Double the percentage of women now working abroad are single – 51 percent compared with 23 percent of men.  Generally, women working abroad didn’t have children, whereas men were equally likely to have children, regardless of whether they worked overseas or not.
  • When asked about plans for the future, double the number of women (32 percent) stated they wanted to go back to their home country, compared to just 15 percent of men.
  • Women were less satisfied than men regarding pay – 84 percent of men said moving abroad had improved their salary, only 74 percent of women reported the same. Similarly, 78 percent of men said their living conditions had improved, while that was the case for only 68 percent of women.

These findings fit with a story I wrote last week, Shattering 5 Myths About Women and Money. In that story, entrepreneur Lenore Nolan-Ryan pointed out, “Women have a big responsibility. Their first love is to take care of their family, their children, and sometimes their elderly parents,” and that women are, on the whole and in her opinion, more dedicated to family than money.

If that’s the case, women are less willing – or less encouraged, or both – to leave the home behind to pursue a career on an  international scale. Especially for less pay than men would get for doing it.

In other words, it could be a macrocosmic version of the prior generations’ gender dynamics, where women were encouraged not to leave the house to work at all. “Occupation? Homemaker. Housewife.” Now, women might make up half the workforce, and they’re making slow gains in the upper ranks – but they’re still expected to put the kids and family before a career, wherever it might take them. Not so for men.

Stacy Johnson

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