by I recently read an article on the Bloomberg web site that really surprised me. The article stated:
“Just 23 % of films distributed globally from 2010 to 2013 featured female protagonists, according to a report released today by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.”1
I say I was surprised because movies like the Hunger Games, Gravity, and Silver Linings Playbook all portrayed strong female stars, so I didn’t think this was an issue. Even Netflix has a category called “Movies with Strong Female Leads.” But it turns out, these are only masking the gender gap that still exists.
But is inequality only an issue onscreen? The gender gap is a conversation I frequently have with my business partner and wife, Iris Hershenson, who also teaches a college management course to mostly females.
She lectures about the glass ceiling, a political term used to describe the “unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.”2 Her students tell her story after story about how they are paid less than their male counterparts for the same work.
Not to say there are no females at the top of the corporate pyramid. Women like Ginni Rometty with IBM, Mary Barra with General Motors, and Indra Nooyi with PepsiCo come to mind. Still it seems there is much work to be done in this area.
Some argue that the pay gap is a myth, and women make less than men because of differences in education and job choice (i.e. women tend to choose lower paying occupations than men). Though these factors play a role, one-third of the pay gap still remains unexplained.3
The American Association of University Women (AAUA) argues that women graduate to a pay gap. Meaning that a woman graduating from the same university as her male counterpart, with the same major, after one year of working full-time in the same occupation, still earns less.3 So what accounts for the unexplainable gap?
One reason is gender discrimination. Another interesting theory is that women are unwilling to negotiate their salary. Carol Frohlinger and Lois Frankel, in their book called Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It, discuss women’s’ reluctance to negotiate and advocate for themselves. Frohlinger writes that only 16% of women negotiate with their bosses during performance evaluations and that most women feel very uncomfortable doing so.4
In an interview on the Today Show, Frankel comments that women can still be “nice,” but the problem is when they “over-rely on behaviors and rules they learned in childhood, but they don’t add adult, assertive behaviors.”5
I was speaking to a female client today, who was telling me she believed that there was a relationship between the glass ceiling and the way women are brought up. For example, in her family she was always told that a man would take care of her. Now as an adult and still single, she’s had to adopt a new mindset, which she says wasn’t easy. She’s had to learn to become financially self-sufficient, and not count on anyone else taking care of her.
There are certain “nice” behaviors and beliefs that girls carry into their adulthood. Beliefs about negotiating their salaries, about taking charge of their financial life, about providing for themselves.
Perhaps it is time to shed some old paradigms and realize that as a woman you do not need to hide behind a male partner, or spend your life staring-up through the glass ceiling, watching others succeed. You can still play the lead role in your own life.