I just got off the phone with my friend Michio, back in Japan. She was so fustrated about her job situation that she really needed a friendly ear to vent to. After five years working for the same company she just had enough of waiting for an “opportunity” and she decided to look for it elsewhere. “I’m one of the few women in my office that is not working as an ‘office lady,’ and still they are reluctant to promote me; they believe that sooner or later I’ll leave my job to get married and have kids,” she said. Michio’s profile, a single woman in her early thirties with a university degree, several years’ work experience and frustrated with the difficulties in getting ahead in her career, is not unique to Japanese society, but especially common in Japan, where less than one percent of corporate directors are women.
Family businesses are not an exception.
Apart from interesting cases like the “ryokans” (Japanese traditional inn) in Japan, where women rule generation after generation, most women in family businesses get leadership positions when there are no men in the family to go around. Still, succeeding dad in the family business is one of the fastest ways for a woman to break into top management.
Women power does make a difference
Global leaders like IBM and P&G are promoting their “gender diversity” programs as they have figured out that having more women in management will help them to better understand the needs of a big percentage of their customers, women.
Also, a study conducted by Catalyst, a research company specializing in gender issues, shows that the leading companies in their sample had women accounting for 20 percent of their top managers, while the bottom companies had less than 2 percent.
If this is not enough proof of women managers positive impact on company performance, look at the UK’s Cranfield School of Management study, which found that 69 firms in the FTSE 100 with at least one women director scored an average return of equity of 13.8 percent compared with 9.9 percent of the other 39 companies with no women directors at all.
Why are there still so few women in top management?
Many go the easy way and blame women themselves, arguing that they are not as ambitious and committed as men to making the hard climb to top management and that they are too eager to leave their careers when they get married or have children. As a woman, I find this argument quite cynical.
I’ve meet many expatriate’s wives throughout the years living in different countries. Most of them have great education and work experience but left their careers and well paid jobs when their husbands were offered job opportunities abroad. Why? Simply because they could not compete with their husbands higher salaries and better career prospects.
This is also a choice that many women are compelled to take when they have children. If the couple doesn’t make money enough to pay baby care, the woman’s job is the first to go, as she normally earns less than her husband. Statistics show that women in general have fewer offers to managerial positions and generally lower salaries for the same positions.
Society is not so supportive to career women.
Women are blamed for the low birth rate in the industrialized world, picturing working women that remain childless as selfish and self-centred. Needless to say, working mothers don’t get much better press either, making many mothers feel guilty about wanting to have a career.
Interestingly enough, statistics show that the countries that have the lowest levels of fertility are those with relatively low levels of female labour force participation while the countries with higher fertility levels tend to have relatively high female labour force participation rates. So, it seems that supporting women to have careers actually makes them more willing to be mothers as they feel more confidence in being able to provide a better life for their families.
In my opinion, companies and governments have to make an effort to help women combine family and career. Women will have no incentive to return to work after maternity leave if they are not offered the possibility to rise to management-level positions and the flexibility that a working mother requires. Who wants to go back to a dead-end job that costs you money because you have to pay someone to look after your child?
Women power is not enough to break the glass ceiling; companies should offer true equality of opportunity– equal pay to men and women for the same positions, and flexible hours and child care facilities for working parents. Governments should help with tax incentives and positive discrimination establishing minimum quotas of women in management. Basically, women power needs people power to really make a difference.
Written by Carmen Lence, Executive Coach specialized in working with Family business and women entrepreneur.
For more information about Carmen Lence click on www.nextgenfamilybusiness.com