ALC English Journal Article May 2014

High-Performing Women

QUESTION: I work in a male-dominated company, and I’ve noticed that our company gets rid of the women who perform well while promoting men who perform in a mediocre fashion. What can I do?

ANSWER: Why would a company interested in profit not recognize and make good use of its high-performing women? As strange as it sounds, regrettably the statistics on women in the workforce suggest that your experience is not uncommon. Before I share my advice, let’s look at what’s happening with women in business around the world.

Disappointingly, the status of professional women in the developed world is still pathetic. According to the 2013 Grant Thornton report on this,the situation for executive women is particularly grim. Let’s look at the three countries where it’s the worst – the US, India, and Japan. In India women comprise only 19% of senior executives, and in the US it’s only slightly better, at 21%. Japan has the lowest percentage of senior executive women of the developed world, a mere 7%. In contrast 30% of senior executives in Turkey and Russia are women, and in China women are the majority of senior executives, at 51%!

While discouraging in the short-term, don’t worry about the progress of women professionals in Japan in the long-term because Japan will face a 20% shortage in the working-age population in the coming decades. Women will be highly sought after! Businesses need everyone’s contributions to successfully meet the challenges facing them, including those of women. Japan’s Prime Minister Abe agrees. In 2013 he began strongly pushing for increased participation of women in Japanese businesses, urging every corporation to include at least one female executive.

Unfortunately the prospect of long-term change doesn’t help you now. But perhaps it’s some consolation to know that many women who are forced out of one company find a better job in the next one. That was certainly my experience when I quit Hewlett-Packard (HP) to work at KPMG, where I received a promotion and a 30% pay raise. And when I left a Silicon Valley startup where my opportunities seemed limited, my next job came with a vice president title and 50% higher salary!

The women in your company may feel forced out, but many will find better opportunities in their new jobs. Keep in touch with these women! It sounds like you should be looking for a new position, too, and they could be a great source of job leads for you.

Actually, I feel sorry for the mediocre men at your company because their only option is to stay where their mediocrity is tolerated! Still, it can be discouraging to be in a situation like you describe. When I get discouraged about the slow rate of progress women have made in the business world I think about my dear friend Jane Evans. She was the first woman to earn an electrical engineering degree from her University, and the first female engineer hired by Hewlett Packard (HP). She told me that, as she approached her university graduation, she received rejection letters from companies where she hadn’t even applied for a job! By comparison our lives are easy.

The business world has many challenges that require the combined strength of both men and women. Companies must make a profit to survive, and it’s been proven that including more women increases profitability. Eventually those businesses that attract and retain talented women will be those that survive and thrive. Find a company that appreciates you and leave mediocrity to the mediocre!

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