Career Ladder Climb Still Differs For Women

By Diane Stafford
The Kansas City Star.

Over the years of attending human resource conferences, I’ve heard endless reasons why climbing the career ladder is harder for women than men. Among the generalities:

Women, more than men, take prime earning years out of work to raise children.

Men “mentor” men and women, but “sponsor” men. Sponsorship is “he reminds me of me when I was his age.” Fewer women sponsor others because there are fewer women in top corporate spots.

Men conflict in the workplace and then go out with each other for a beer. Women conflict then go hide for a cry or stop speaking to each other.

Women are held to higher standards than men to prove themselves ready for the next step.

Advancement of women, like minorities, is passed off as affirmative action rather than merit.

Every one of those assertions has some truth, some poppycock. It depends on circumstance. But more than a half century after trail-blazing professional women climbed onto top management rungs, challenges persist for doing it in a skirt. Double meaning intended.

A report by the American Management Association, released Nov. 17, examined the background of Fortune 500 CEOs — of which a minuscule 4.8 percent are women, and that’s an all-time high.

The study found that those women “have earned more rigorous academic degrees, have greater work and life experiences when first appointed, and proved more often to have worked their way up internally” in the organization.

The findings “seem to show that women are held to different, if not more demanding, standards than men,” said Jeremey Donovan, author of the report. “What we learned suggests this applies to women at all levels. …There’s discrimination, conscious or unconscious. Corporate culture is still male dominated, a phenomenon women are surely aware of even if men may not be.”

That differences in perception show in responses I tend to receive to business stories when some men criticize the data or cite exceptions. It is undeniably true that some women break the mold. It’s more common, though, for women to continue to strive for the same workplace standing and benefits of association as men.

That said, it helps to factor in reactions distributed by Ernst & Young’s Women Athletes Business Network and espnW. They surveyed 400 women in business, half of whom are in chief executive jobs of some ilk. Seventy-four percent said a background in sports can help accelerate a woman’s career, and 61 percent said sports involvement contributed to their own career successes.

Sports involvement is perceived as indicating a strong work ethic, the ability to be a team player and determination to win or meet goals. Sports are credited for motivational skills, tenacity and team building. Those assets all can positively influence hiring decisions.

So take a bow, Title IX. The law that opened up more organized sports to more women is paying dividends for women’s careers.

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