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May 22, 2003
Corporate America Less than Halfway to Gender Parity
    by William Baue

A Conference Board report documents the evident and the less-apparent obstacles to achieving male-female equality in the workplace.

Gender parity has not yet been achieved in the corporate community because there remain a number of inequities. Some of these inequities are readily quantifiable, but there are also a host of so-called "microinequities," or subtle but insidious forms of discrimination and prejudice against women.

That is the conclusion of a report released on Monday by the Conference Board, a corporate membership organization that creates and disseminates information about business management and the workplace. The report projects that, at the current pace, gender parity will not be achieved for at least another two decades.

The report, entitled Bridging the Gaps. . . Putting Women on an Equal Footing, was written by communications consultant Deborah Anderson based on the proceedings of the Conference Board's March 2003 Women's Leadership Conference in New York.

The statistical evidence of gender inequality is stark, but also shows signs of forward momentum. The report cites studies by Catalyst, a research organization that promotes women in business, which reveal that only 15.7 percent of corporate officers of Fortune 500 companies are women. Measured on a ten-point scale with 10 signifying gender parity, this percentage rates a 2.76, or a little over a quarter of the way to parity.

This innovative gauge comes from the Business Leadership Index, a study that measures women's clout in business prepared by the Committee of 200 (C200). C200 is an invitation-only membership organization of women corporate leaders.

"[W]omen business leaders continue to show slow, but steady and determined progress toward parity with men in major spheres of influence within the business world," the C200 study states. "But we are still less than halfway to parity."

The Business Leadership Index measures 10 benchmarks in all, each on a 10-point scale. They include the ratio of women who hold line versus staff positions (5.90) at Fortune 500 companies. The combined score of all 10 benchmarks is 4.28, or a little less than half way to achieving gender parity.

The gender wage gap, or women's average weekly earnings as a proportion of men's, earned the highest score of 7.74, or a little more than three-quarters of the way to parity.

"The fact that there's still a gender-wage gap is inexcusable and really a black eye for corporate America," said Connie Duckworth, chair of C200. "In my mind, there's no reason to have pay inequity."

Ironically, the gender wage gap is the most visible yardstick measuring parity. Corporate America's black eye swells when considering the other less visible points of comparison between women's and men's status in the business world. The benchmark measuring the proportion of companies receiving venture capital funding that have women CEOs scored .82, or less than a tenth of the way to parity.

Other indicators of gender inequity are not as easily quantified, but also contribute to women's lower status in the corporate community. The report listed a series of microinequities identified by Jane Tuohy, a partner with Cambridge Hill Partners, such as being interrupted, ignored, excluded, or subjected to sexist jokes, and having ideas credited to male colleagues. Because most corporate officers are male, these problems often escape their notice.

"[There is a] real level of cluelessness on the part of senior executives," said Ms. Tuohy.

Cambridge Hill Partners audit organizations' gender and racial diversity and provide diversity scorecards that measure retention, advancement, and cultural change.

"Diversity scorecards can detail for executives what is needed and can educate them about the fact that diversity is more than hiring and retention," Ms. Tuohy stated in the report. "It's a different kind of mindset, that actions are more important than words."

Patricia C. Pope, CEO of Pope and Associates, a diversity consulting firm, underlined this observation. She pointed out that many corporations create the "illusion of inclusion" for women and minorities, who "misinterpret titles or positions as automatically conferring inclusion in the inner circle of power and influence."

Although these effects are more discreet than the statistical measurements of gender inequity, they too must be redressed in order to achieve true gender parity.


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