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Gender gap for women in pay, position

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Gender gap for women in pay, position

NEW YORK—While access to positions of corporate leadership in the United States has improved gradually, female executives still face significant disparity in salary, workplace double standards and other obstacles, experts said during the Business Insurance 2011 Women to Watch Awards workshop and ceremony last week.

The ratio of women to men in chief executive positions has remained largely flat, and median salaries for female CEOs have increased approximately 13% since 2005, but the gulf between their pay and that of their male counterparts has widened, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Female CEO salaries were equal to about 72% of those paid to men in 2010, down from 74% in 2005.

“The data tell a pretty compelling story,” author and workplace equality consultant Lynn Cronin said in a keynote address at the Dec. 6 awards ceremony. Though women are substantially represented in virtually all fields of labor, she said the BLS data shows strong evidence of a systemic undervaluation of women employees in the workplace, particularly in the corporate sector.

Even for executive positions in which women are the majority, men consistently are paid more. Women made up 52% of financial managers in 2010 and 71% of human resource managers, yet were paid only 66% and 80%, respectively, of what their male counterparts earned, according to BLS data.

Of the 574 job categories and subcategories studied in 2010, fewer than 40 showed women earning within 10% of their male counterparts, and only four had women earning as much or more than men.

“We've moved from an access problem to a success problem,” Ms. Cronin said. “Women today have not been as successful at moving through the system of business as their male peers.”

The reasons for that inequity vary significantly among industries and individual companies, but one universal factor Ms. Cronin said is likely to blame is the set of “invisible rules of business” that apply to many corporate cultures.

“There are certain basic rules of business that appear to be the same for men and women, but they don't work as well for women,” Ms. Cronin said, adding that even well-intentioned core business values can result in difficult, even paradoxical situations for female employees.

For example, most companies encourage their employees to be “team players” by taking pride in group success rather than seeking individual recognition. However, Ms. Cronin's research suggests that women who adhere to a team-player mentality are more likely to be overlooked when accolades and rewards are doled out to individuals.

Conversely, if a woman seeks out recognition for herself, she is more likely to be viewed as being selfish or greedy than would a man in the same position, Ms. Cronin said.

In addition to the institutionalized external issues facing female executives, panelists at the conference said women also must overcome more nebulous challenges within their own culture to achieve greater equality in corporate America. Primarily, panelists said, it has become increasingly important for women in corporate leadership roles to extend themselves as mentors and sponsors to younger generations of women workers, particularly in industries still heavily dominated by men (see related story).

“There's a pipeline that's broken, or leaky at best, of women finding senior management roles,” said Carol Murphy, a managing director at Aon Corp. in Chicago. “That's something that we're fighting, and it's multifactorial; it's not a simple problem with a simple solution.”

Effecting change in corporate cultures will help level the playing field for women at their own companies, but many at the conference said women will only realize equality at work when traditional gender roles outside the workplace are abandoned. In her opening keynote address, feminist activist Gloria Steinem said a fundamental change in what men and women are taught to understand are appropriate behaviors and aspirations based on their gender is likely the hardest, but certainly most important, challenge facing the women's equality movement.

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