Number Equality Does Not Lead to Power Equality

In this entry I try to connect the dots regarding the glass ceiling for women, from an outsider’s (male’s) point of view.

I am reading the book Microtrends, a wonderful collection of small trends that flow under the traditional trend-radar but nevertheless are shaping the future of the U.S. and the world. The “Wordy Women” section tells us that “women are on the verge of taking over word-based professions, like journalism, law, marketing, and communications.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2005, 57 percent of news analysts, reporters, and correspondents were women. Even 57 percent of TV news anchors—that authoritative role once reserved for the likes of Walter Cronkite—are women.

This observation matches what I have witnessed in Taiwan. Almost half of my co-workers in word-oriented positions, including marketing, sales, and writing, have been female. (Let’s not talk about the situation in Japan, the third-world country of gender equality.)

And yet what I remember most vividly about what it means to be a female journalist/writer today is an article from James Chartrand. Before she (yes, it’s she) became James Chartrand, the über-writer at Copyblogger, she was a single mother with two daughters, struggling to make ends meet.

One day, I tossed out a pen name, because I didn’t want to be associated with my current business, the one that was still struggling to grow. I picked a name that sounded to me like it might convey a good business image. Like it might command respect.

Instantly, jobs became easier to get.
There was no haggling. There were compliments, there was respect. Clients hired me quickly, and when they received their work, they liked it just as quickly. There were fewer requests for revisions — often none at all.

I was applying in the same places. I was using the same methods. Even the work was the same.
In fact, everything was the same.
Except for the name.

Something feels odd. If the number of women in the word-oriented industries is equal to or outnumbering men, why did she have more success after picking a pen-name of the opposite sex? Mark J. Penn, the author of Microtrends, also admits this contradiction and offers a statistic that shows that the majority of decision-making positions in the wordy professions are still filled by men:

To be sure, that women flood the wordy professions doesn’t mean that they always dominate decision-making. In journalism and in law, particularly, women drop off somewhere between the professional schools (where they are the majority) and the corridors of power. Women are only 17 percent of law partners. They are only one-third of full-time journalists working for the mainstream media.

And sadly, my own observations agree with this statistic too. In the past five years I have seen female managers in word-oriented positions (in total, 5 or 6), maybe more than their male counterparts (4 or 5). But when it comes to executives, I have seen only one female. Mark J. Penn does not offer a reason why, and instead throws in a slightly evasive statement: “But this trend is new, so it may take a long time for it to percolate through to the top.”

Aside from the tired (but persuasive-sounding) theory of “women are biologically not programmed to be interested in power,” the only reasonable explanation so far that I have heard comes from Penelope Trunk, who says:

Forget the glass ceiling because it's about to become irrelevant. Not because women are finally going to get to the top of Fortune 500 companies in forces of more than two companies at a time. That may happen, but no one's holding their breath. The glass ceiling is going to become irrelevant because the women who are coming into the workforce now see what's above that glass and they are uninterested.

So here is my guesstimation on what is going on, deduced from my own observations and these stories. Because younger generations are less interested in climbing the ladder, the old folks (men) who should have been pushed to retirement some time ago can still afford to cling to their positions, and are filtering out the non-traditional workforce, including females, probably subconsciously. Any other explanations?