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Empowering Women in Business

Strategies for Change

More than 25 years after Title VII was passed prohibiting sex discrimination in employment, women are still virtually absent in the board rooms and in the ranks of top management in corporate America. Progress is inconsistent and far too slow. Clearly, incremental change won't be adequate.

The absence of women at the top is reflected in the current array of corporate policies that discriminate against employed women.

Women are segregated into dead-end, low-wage jobs. Full-time employed women's earnings average only 68.4% of men's earnings.

Only 32% of working women are covered by employer or union-sponsored pensions and group health plans compared to 45% of men.

Most employers fail to accommodate the needs of working parents, having grossly inadequate or no parental leave and child care policies. Sexual harassment problems are reported at 90% of major corporations.

More women at the top would benefit all women employees, as women are more likely to believe that discrimination is a problem and more likely to implement pay equity and attirmative action policies. In a 1985 Harvard Business Review study, 73% of women executives believed "a woman executive is invariably paid less than her male counterpart," but only 34% of men agreed.

Women managers are also more likely to establish corporate policies that address the needs of working families, such as parental leaves, day care, and flexible scheduling for working parents. And policies to prevent sexual harassment and to discipline offenders would be enforced.

If there is to be change, feminists must make it happen. We must boost more women onto the top rungs of corporate management and make equality for women a central issue in business.

To do this, the Feminist Majority Foundation urges the implementation of direct action strategies to explode the myths about women in business, to gender balance corporate boards, senior management and the boards of professional associations and unions, to organize feminist networks and caucuses to help break the 'glass ceiling,' and to encourage women to take legal action to challenge sex discrimination.

The goal must be full equality for women in all facets of the business community and a 50/50 representation of women and men at all decision-making levels and in all capacities of business and corporate management.

In developing Empowering Women strategies for your corporation or organization, keep in mind the need to organize and fight for change. Be willing to take risks and concentrate on how you can change the rules that block women from getting to the top.

We urge you to contact us at the Feminist Majority Foundation to tell us of your actions and to get additional organizing ideas, follow-up materials, and feminist contacts at other companies.

Strategy 1: Explode the Myths

Many women have been discouraged from "going for the top" by a set of myths that women are not suited for top management or that the problem is being solved gradually. These myths work to keep women in their place and to justify the lack of progress for women. Worse yet, these myths often place blame on women rather than sex discrimination.

We must explode these myths. Constantly challenge stereotypes about women in business. Recognize how they are keeping women "in their place." Some ideas in the preceding "Myths about Women in Business" section may help.

Be creative. Write an opinion piece for your local newspaper or professional publication and ask feminist reporters to uncover the myths perpetrated about women in business. (See additional media strategies discussed below.)

During board of director and annual stockbolder meetings, in professional conferences, and at seminars sponsored by your business, raise the issue of the under-representation of women and confront and undermine the assumptions.

Organize a workshop at your next professional conference or forum for your industry focused specifically on exploding myths and developing strategies to break the glass ceiling. Reproduce and distribute copies of the "Myths" section of this report.

Strategy 2: Push for Gender Balance

The more women in business senior management, the greater the chance of increasing the number of feminists in decision-making positions. And the more feminists in leadership positions, the better conditions for all working women.

To guarantee equal numbers of women in decision making positions in business, the Feminist Majority Foundation encourages gender balance rules. Gender balance laws and rules are a bold new strategy for women's equality. They are being used to require the appointment of equal numbers of women and men to public boards, commissions, committees, and councils at the state and local levels of government. Already, five states have passed gender balances laws and resolutions, and at least fifteen additional states have introduced or bave plans to introduce gender balance measures.

Even if gender balance rules are not immediately adopted, raising the issue will call attention to the severe under-representation of women in decision-making positions in business. Gender balance rules are working in the public sector why not the private sector?

Even if gender balance rules are not immediately adopted, raising the issue will call attention to the severe under-representation of women in decision-making positions in business. Gender balance rules are working in the public sector why not the private sector?

The key is to target corporate boards and decision-making positions where women are underrepresented. When staff project teams are put together, be sure that there is a 50/50 representation of women and men.

In addition, work for gender balance rules that apply to all committees, boards, and elected otticer positions for your professional and industry associations, Chambers of Commerce, and unions.

Strategy 3: Organize with Other Feminists

Join or (if none exist) Organize a Feminist Caucus in Your Professional or Business Organization. Have the caucus introduce a resolution highlighting the discrimination women executives continue to face in the field and calling on all members of your professional group to implement plans to bring equal numbers of women and men into senior management and on corporate boards.

Join or (if none exist) Organize a Feminist Network Inside Your Company. Meet with other feminists to develop direct action strategies aimed at dramatically increasing the number of women in corporate board positions and upper management ranks. Organize, organize, organize -- recruit other feminists everywhere.

First, get the facts. Determine what percentage of senior management positions are held by women. Use the facts to organize. Determine which government laws or regulations - state, federal, or local - protect employees in your company from discrimination. Use them.

Second, meet with top management to challenge the under-representation of women in senior management or on your corporate board. Present ideas and strategies for dramatically increasing the numbers of women in senior positions at your company with the goal of achieving a management team with gender balance and racial and ethnic equity. Include policies on executive recruiting, hiring, promoting, training, and development. Establishing goals and timetables are critical - plan regular meetings with top management to assess progress and to keep the pressure on.

Third, use alternative or "zap" tactics to draw attention to the inequities and to raise consciousness. For example, in elevators and stairwells, post pictures of your corporate board and senior officers out of the company's annual report with the caption, "What's Wrong with this Picture?" Be creative. Use humor.

Enlist the Support of Feminists on the Board of Directors and Among the Company's Stockholders. With them, push for a board resolution or corporate by laws change to require gender balance on your Board of Directors and a general policy requiring gender balanced management ranks. In addition, work with them to compile your own gender-balanced slate of nominees for the Board.

Reach Out to Other Feminist Groups. Enlist the support and tap the resources of feminist organizations, women's business groups, and women students and faculty at business schools. (See the Resources section in this kit.)

Strategy 4: Consider Legal Alternatives

Many women have turned to the courts with complaints of sex discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. And, contrary to popular belief, women are still winning lawsuits.

In a ground-breaking decision in 1990, a Federal district judge in Washington ordered Price Waterhouse and Company to grant a partnership to a woman who testified that negative sexual stereotypes prevented her from receiving the promotion in 1983. After five years at Price Waterhouse, Ann B. Hopkins had brought in more clients that the other candidates for partnership, yet was told that because she was too "macho" and "over compensated for being a woman," she would not receive partnership. Her record and testimony convinced the Court that sex discrimination was, in fact, in play.

In 1991, a Federal district judge in Philadelphia found Wolf Block (a prominent law firm) guilty of sex discrimination in denying a woman associate a partnership. The judge said that the firm had stricter standards for women vying for partnerships than for men.

These cases serve not only to compensate women for sex discrimination faced in the workplace, but they also force business to re-examine its recruitment, hiring, and promotion practices. A list of resources for implementing legal strategies can be found in the Resources section in this kit.

Strategy 5: Use the Media

Press is integral to any campaign aimed at instituting change. Encourage feminist media reporters to cover your actions and investigate conditions in your company and others. Create a competition among local companies to be the "best" for women executives.

Opinion pieces and articles should be submitted to and requested at local newspapers, professional publications and trade journals. Suggest that local television and radio talk shows devote a program to "Exploding the Myths about Women in Business," or to "Breaking the Glass Ceiling."

The general press - and feminist reporters in particular - should be alerted to any specific action you are taking. Always remember to take your story (and the statistics) to the press.