Learning the Lesson of Gender
Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire
the oft-quoted nineteenth century Spanish philosopher and novelist, George
Santayana, famously said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed
to repeat it.” One lesson many big businesses have failed to learn is how
best to employ (in both the literal and figurative senses) women. How to
hire them in the first place and then how to use them to the best of their
usual, the principle enjoys almost universal approval with the practice
remaining an elusive aspiration. According to Forbes, Bain & Company
conducted a survey of more than 1,800 people worldwide and discovered that
near 80 percent claimed to be "convinced of the benefits of gender parity
at all levels." Respondents, comprised of men and women, allegedly "recognize
that retaining more women as they ascend the corporate ladder will add
diversity of experience and perspective and also will help them understand
women as buyers and influencers. Higher retention rates will also save
companies millions in recruiting and retraining costs."
problem, Forbes points out, is the difficulty in getting
women into leadership positions. While half of America’s workforce is female,
they explain, in 2009 women represented a mere "three percent of the chief
executives of the country’s 500 largest companies." Furthermore, "the female-to-male
ratio rapidly dwindles at almost every rung of the ladder upward, across
organizations and across industries."
two most likely causes cited are time off from career trajectories due
to motherhood, with the consequential lack of experience this causes, and
a failure by companies to enact consistent career development programs.
At least in part because of these corporate failures, more women are choosing
to start their own businesses rather than accept the frustration of being
employees. Bain apparently found "women entrepreneurs start nearly 1,600 businesses
daily in the U.S." They then quoted one such entrepreneur who explained,
"I chose to leave the corporate world and run my own company rather than try
to achieve gender parity at that corporation, in that industry."
Questions: What in your opinion are the primary reasons that women
are represented in such low numbers in the executive ranks of business?
Are there opportunities for executive women particular to the retail
industry that should be further developed? What answers do you have that
will address the issue and improve business performance in the process?