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Lack of Women in senior positions

(18 Posts)
Chewbecca Tue 15-Jan-13 16:11:28

I work for a very large company and we've had a female networking session today triggered by the under representation of females in senior positions.

This is quite pertinent to me since I am at the grade below the one where the % female drops off dramatically.

I know I have the skills for a job at the next level and that I'd enjoy the challenge. However, I don't apply for such roles and won't allow myself to be put forward for them because I believe, well I know that the expectations, time-wise especially are much greater at that grade, extensive travel is expected too. I currently work 3/4 days pw so I can do school runs etc and I'm happy with this choice and don't feel I could continue the arrangement if I were promoted.
So effectively, I've opted out of progressing further.

So what's my question? There isn't one really. I guess I'm a bit sad I have to opt out of progression but I know I'd be sadder if I had to miss as much home life as I know i'd have to.

Does anyone work for a large company where it's possible to do a v senior job part time? How?
My company is fab with flexible working btw, can wfh when suitable, lots of video conferencing in place etc. But that really means you can carry on working in the evening and start really early in the morning which although helpful, contributes to these jobs being so 'big'.
I'm interested in other people's thoughts and experiences I guess.

CailinDana Tue 15-Jan-13 16:48:45

You might be interested to read "The Sexual Paradox" by Susan Pinker. She did a lot of research around women in the workplace and found that in the vast majority of cases women don't make it to the top because, like you, they don't actually want to. She found that while men were willing to put in long hours and give up on the social and family aspects of life in order to be successful at work, women weren't, particularly when they had children. So they had the opportunity to succeed, but they opted out at some point. Of course the question is, why is there this disparity in desire? Is it because women actually want to spend more time with their families, or because they're expected to do so? And is the model of working where the successful ones dedicate their lives to their jobs really healthy or worthwhile, for men or women?

GunsAndRoses Wed 16-Jan-13 00:20:01

"The Sexual Paradox" by Susan Pinker - I recommend this book too.

Chewbecca Wed 16-Jan-13 09:03:19

Thank you for responding!

The thing is, I don't actually lack the desire, I just know I can't 'have it all' thus suppress the desire.

I will certainly read this book.

EmmelineGoulden Wed 16-Jan-13 11:14:54

Chew perhaps you could get your bosses to listen to Infosys founder Narayana Murthy

It seems to me that as women moved into traditionally male roles in the office the requirements for success changed to include a lot more facetime. I think it's a cultural issue that is not necessary for businesses to succeed.

Chewbecca Wed 16-Jan-13 11:56:43

Emmeline I don't think I really agree with that link anymore. It certainly was a problem maybe 15 years or so ago but in my organisation, or at least my area, we've moved on. We no longer have 'presentee-ism', we can all work remotely, overseas etc, no-one is keeping tabs on when or where you work anymore, it is about results hence I say we are great with flexible working. But that actually makes it even easier for the jobs to be so big that you almost need to be on call 24 hrs a day to do them, so we've lost the facetime problem and gained a new one!

I do agree with the aspect that there are other things to do in life other than work, hence my own decision to create my 'work-life balance'. I'm just lamenting the fact that that has to be at the expense of ambition I suppose.

EmmelineGoulden Wed 16-Jan-13 13:34:16

Yes, I guess facetime is not so much the case anymore. But you indicated earlier that though people don't have to be in the office, it is instead expected that they would be available at all hours - working from home etc.

I think Murthy's piece is relevent in what it said about how a few people doing something (and being rewarded for it) changed the culture so that it was expected and the norm. The culture can change back.

ceeveebee Wed 16-Jan-13 13:49:03

I hold a senior position in a plc company and work 3 days a week. However I am expected to be on the end of the phone and deal with urgent issues 7 days a week, and sometimes have to rearrange childcare so that I can be in the office on other days, although my PA is under strict instruction to arrange meetings to fit in with me whereever possible.

My days are mostly spent in meetings and my evenings on the laptop. I leave the office at 5pm on the dot two nights a week to get back for the nanny, my husband is responsible for this one day a week.

I do get the odd comment "oh, you only work part-time" etc and of course I took a 40% pay cut to reduce to the 3 days week but in reality am still doing mostly the same job.

AmandaPayne Wed 16-Jan-13 13:52:21

I am currently at SAHM. We relocated and my job wasn't portable whereas DH could change office.

Before we moved, we were both working pt and flexibly and there was definitely a sense that we were both 'treading water' career wise. DH has noticeably picked up a gear since going back to full time and being able to do evening entertaining etc more easily.

I actually used to argue at work against the whole 'female networking' stuff. Not because I don't recognise the merits in women only spaces, but because I think it just encourages this stuff to be put in a box marked 'women's issues'. I think at the moment we are in a bit of a catch 22. I am not sure much will change in terms of expectation until more women in senior positions show things can be different. But too few women are willing to be a generation that sacrifices themselves to getting there - me included. It would benefit my daughters in some ways (if enough women did it, and things did change), but be so detrimental to them in other, more definite and tangible ways.

MmBovary Sat 19-Jan-13 00:31:14

On the issue of supressing, as women, our desire to move on the career ladder, I often wonder if men don't have any desire at all to stay at home and raise their children?

I think some men supress their desires too in many ways, but that they question or challenge the system a lot less than women.

For what I see around, many men (my husband included) are utterly fed up of working long hours, lack of flexibility, in other words, the daily grind, but they seem to put up with it without much opposition.

I work part time and am not particularly career minded, though I think having a profession or an occupation outside the house is extremely important. I think I have supressed a lot of my ambitions to have a proper career a long time ago, well before having children, due to a massive confidence drop, from which I'm still slowly recovering.

Chewbecca Sat 19-Jan-13 08:25:02

mmbovary interesting about men suppressing desires, I hadn't given that much thought. My DH does desire to work less and fantasises about retirement, yes, BUT he has never desired to be the primary carer, he doesn't really wish he could pick DS up from school, hear about his day, know the ins and outs of his music lesson, clubs, timings and all that stuff.
But maybe he's untypical, and maybe I am too!
Good luck boosting your confidence.

Sausageeggbacon Sat 19-Jan-13 08:56:30

I sometimes think the glass ceiling that everyone talks about is in fact something we ourselves have put in place. For me I was a SAHM when the kids were young and started working again as the kids got older. I work part time to fit around my family life and although I have been offered promotions I have turned them down to avoid the change in my home life. I would probably be managing where I am now rather than at the bottom of the office food chain but I elected to put my family before my career. I don't think we can have it both ways.

WilsonFrickett Sat 19-Jan-13 09:36:57

I was in a similar position to you pre-redundancy. My DH has always been ahead of me in career-terms, partly because he's older, partly because he studied a technical subject and got stuck straight into a career whereas I did an arts course late and did a lot of flitting around.

When it came to going up to that next level, I felt the same as you - we both couldn't be available for travel, last minute meetings etc. Because my DH was already earning the big bucks it wasn't really possible for me to jump up (and for our DS to be parented the way we wanted him to be) That saideven in my lower level job (which was still pretty high up) 3 days a week I was still constantly on the blackberry etc on my day off.

When our departments merged I did see a number of women who had 'big' jobs that they did make part time work. That was a small, central department with no revenue responsibility. That said, 'making it work' still involved blackberrying and phone calling on days off/evenings etc.

I think someone made the point upthread about whether your desire was damped down by cultural expectations. I think men are often as trapped by this as women, but in the opposite direction. Cultures that don't allow part-time working to happen successfully damage everyone ime.

But my final thought is perhaps contradictory. Big salaries demand big effort and sacrifice. They do demand long hours and being present, and travel and videoconferences at DCs bedtimes because that works best for the States. While the female representation debate is critically important I do think it's important to note that companies demand their pounds of flesh and that probably isn't going to change in the economic model we currently have. In a bank/most other large organisations, if you're on 100k - a fuckload is expected of you in terms of time. That's why you get paid the 100k. I'm not sure if that should change tbh.

tribpot Sat 19-Jan-13 09:56:55

I think there are a lot of good points on this thread. And we may be to some extent in danger of making this a gender issue when in fact most men who are reasonably ambitious but who also want to have a semblance of home life also don't rise to the top because they are not prepared to sacrifice one to the other. I do agree with Mmbovary that men are prevented from making choices because it is far less acceptable for them to go part-time in general. But everywhere I know of, going part-time (male or female) is the kiss of death to ambition and progression.

It's certainly interesting to consider whether the high flying jobs simply need that extreme time commitment as Wilson says, and that therefore you have to just suck it up. I would argue skill and experience are just as important, and effective delegation to a competent junior staff should (in theory) mitigate some of the need for presentee-ism.

I think it was mentioned on another thread last year that oftentimes the perception that 'the client won't accept' a part-time worker is just a lazy assumption by the employer. I'm sure someone said she'd left a firm and secured similar work from clients who previously her employer said would not accept her only being available 3 days a week. And mysteriously they had no problem with it.

Chewbacca, in your case, I wonder what would happen if you went to senior management and said pretty much what you've said in your opening post. You think you have the right skills and experience for the grade above but you feel the time commitment would be incompatible with your home life, what would they advise? It might be worth a conversation at least, who knows what senior management really thinks!

Chewbecca Sat 19-Jan-13 11:32:37

tribpot yes, I have spoken to SM about it, my boss's role is likely to come up in 2013 so we had a discussion about whether I wanted to be recommended ij the succession plan. We discussed the demands of the job time-wise, the fact that his boss works a lot of hours (not in the office necessarily) 24/7 and frequently sends mails at midnight and 5am and the need to travel. I've said don't put me forward for it hence I have opted out of progression.
And like you say wilson frickett, I am not prepared to give 100% of my flesh and it's probably right that the person who will give it their all gets the job.

I think it just needs to be recognised that this is one of the (many) reasons women are currently under represented and it's either accepted or changed.

tribpot Sat 19-Jan-13 13:17:55

We discussed the demands of the job time-wise, the fact that his boss works a lot of hours

But this is the self-fulfilling nature of the problem, isn't it? He has to be available 24*7 because his boss is, and his boss probably has no proper 'choice' in the matter either, because his boss is ... etc.

What about the actual work - does it require out of hours work (because the business operates around the clock or in a different time zone)? To some extent that could be beneficial as it might fit better around school runs and things.

The travel I put in a different category to the time management issues. I'm assuming the travel is necessary to the job (and not just swanning about for the sake of it, which surely few companies do in these straitened times!). If the general time aspect of the work were not an issue, would you be able to manage the travel commitment? Is there a better way of structuring it, i.e. shorter trips more frequently or longer trips less frequently?

Of course - this is only an example. You don't have to lay out all the factors in your own decision-making for this thread smile I do about 2 overnight trips a year, if that, away from DH and ds and literally could not do more without buying in support that would be prohibitively expensive.

badguider Sat 19-Jan-13 13:24:41

Was this all talked about at the 'female networking event'?
I imagine a good and genuinely family-friendly company would be open to having these conversations in the open.
What about job-share at senior levels for eg. It is my experience the company gets more than 100% if they have two people doing 50% of a job each, because each goes the extra mile and is grateful for the work/life balance and has more energy.

garlicblocks Sat 19-Jan-13 13:38:16

I'm keeping one foot out of this discussion because I always end up saying the same things ... and nothing changes anyway.

I have two extremely high-flying female friends with children. They work in advertising and banking - both fields notorious for eating the personal life, and with pronounced female attrition past junior board level. Both women have worked continuously - often remotely - while parenting.

In one memorable phone conversation with my banking friend, she was pushing her baby while holding her toddler's hand, buying something at a shop, talking to me and working on her Blackberry. She said this was pretty normal shock grin and was cheerful. I guess this demonstrates why she's the right woman for her job!!

My advertising friend did just as much constant work but was less hands-on with her children. Both women are married to men with lower-key jobs.

On the one hand, this seems to demonstrate that the woman who 'has it all' must 'do it all' - that is, do more than her male peer. Importantly, they disagree. Banking friend points out that it is her choice to engage with daily parenting - indeed, she shaped her own job to allow for scenarios like the multi-tasking phone call. Advertising friend is more the kind of parent that a "good" father in a high-powered job would be.

I think message, now and always, is that home/work balance is a real issue that needs to be addressed head-on. At least, if you push for the promotions and reach the level of influence, you can implement solutions for male and female parents coming after you.

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