As the baby boomer generation begins to retire, women necessarily will play a crucial role in filling the open spaces. Our latest Women to Watch honoree, Wanda Chambers (see article, page 6), stated that “innovation is born from necessity,” and so goes the case for the promotion of female executives. Because the boomers are such a large generation that will be retiring, female executives must comprise a larger part of the management mix. Gen X as a whole coming up behind the baby boomers is so small relatively speaking, it is a good thing that many of the boomers are pushing retirement back until 67 years of age, up from 63 just a decade ago according to Gallup. However, the shifting demographics and attitudes will also make it easier for junior female executives to rise up the ranks as they choose.
Women represent nearly half of the workforce and comprise just 23% of all American CEOs, but that percentage has increased three-fold over the last 20 years, according to Jean Lau Chin, a professor at Adelphi University. The number of female executives coming up behind them was not much better, according to “Gender Bias and Compensation in the Executive Suite of the Fortune 100” in the Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications & Conflict. Females held 24, or 5.8%, of executive positions in 2003 based on the proxy statements of Fortune 100. However, this finding represented a massive improvement over 1997 figures, which showed 51, or 2.6%, of the officers at Fortune 500 companies were women. Relatively little has been done to study the credit union community.
The JOCCC piece sited a 1996 survey, which found that male executives said that women lacked the requisite experience. Female executives admitted that was an issue but felt it was secondary to male stereotyping. A combination of both is the truth.
Does sexism still exist? In the truest sense of the word, no. In the 21st century, it is more subconscious but still systemic. Networking is one area where you can see it exists. I once said I would take up golf because that was the only way to get anywhere. The male I was talking with told me, “No, you don’t want to do that because men get frustrated that women can’t hit the ball as far.” Thus, women can be excluded from heavy-duty networking.
“The Advancement of Women to Top Management Positions in the Human Resource Management Domain: A Time for Change?” published in the International Journal of Business and Social Science, stated that women are often pigeon-holed into positions that are considered feminine, such as human resources, because they involvescaring for others. The report stated that markets demanded diversification and promoting women through human resources achieved that goal “without giving up the traditional classification of female and male work.” It also noted that at the same time as women were taking the human resources departments by storm, the esteem of the profession was rising.
More research is needed on leadership development and how that can impact the rise of female executives. When the baby boomer exodus does ramp up, as I stated previously, more female executives will necessarily have to backfill those positions. Proper experience and training must be ensured, but thus far many programs are focused on fixing women to play the man’s game, as stated in “Taking Gender Into Account: Theory and Design for Women’s Leadership Development Program,” published by the Academy of Management Learning and Education. The article noted research that found, among graduates of top business schools, women’s career trajectory was not on par with the men’s, and females’ advancement in their careers has even slowed in recent years. Rather than jamming a round peg in a square hole, the article suggests providing tools for leaders to do what the author called the “identity work” to become leaders by internalizing that identity and developing an elevated sense of purpose.
The compensation article pointed out that twice as many women than men launch startups. They’re looking to carve out their own destiny and want to be in charge. Korn/Ferry International surveyed women who left careers to strike out on their own and found that 40% cited lack of advancement and 43% stated lack of recognition were key factors. Another 48% said they were turned off by the corporate politicking.
Don’t let these leaders stray from the credit union community, one of the most inclusive industries in existence. Promoting qualified women more as part of succession planning is crucial to business continuity within credit unions, as well as ensuring diversity of ideas and styles for greater innovation.