Barriers for Women in Corporate Culture
The apparent preference of women scientists and engineers for jobs outside the industrial sector and the larger exit rate of women than men from industrial employment suggest that women perceive the climate in industry as less than favorable for a scientific or technical career. Conference participants identified a number of underlying causes of this apparent inhospitable climate for women. Barriers that inhibit progress for women scientists and engineers in industry were found at every stage of career development:
- recruitment and hiring practices that create de facto entry barriers for women,
- aspects of a male-oriented corporate culture that are hostile to women,
- allegations of reverse discrimination,
- sexual harassment,
- different standards for women and men,
- disparities in the distribution of high-quality job assignments,
- salary discrepancies based on one's sex,
- failure of corporations to accommodate work-family issues, and
- difficulty for women to advance into management.
In this chapter we define these barriers, present evidence of their persistence in corporations, and review the understanding that emerged at the conference of their impact on women. In particular, we focus on institutional or cultural attributes of corporations that (1) limit access of women to jobs, (2) create less than favorable working conditions for women, and (3) lead to high attrition rates for women in industry. Later chapters will examine corporate initiatives aimed at neutralizing these negative factors and will offer strategies that can help women overcome them.
Recognizing the advantages inherent in utilizing women scientists and engineers in the corporate labor force, a number of companies—for
instance, E. I. duPont de Nemours and Company—have developed aggressive programs and strategies to recruit more women into these fields:
Strength gained from diversity is the goal of our affirmative action program. Since projections of the future work force indicate that 80–85 percent of net additions over the next 10 years will be minorities and women, [greater] diversity is inevitable. The vision is to manage this to our advantage. We must recruit aggressively among these groups or the best and brightest will go elsewhere. We must train and develop our employees to get full use of their talents and capabilities. If we accomplish this, DuPont can continue to be one of the world's leading industrial companies. . . .7
Other companies were forced to open their doors to women in science and engineering by federal affirmative action policies initiated in the 1970s. While some programs have been effective, yielding significant progress in recent years, barriers that limit access to industry jobs for women remain.
The rapidly changing work environment in corporations today, coupled with internal competition for head count (i.e., full-time employees), creates pressures to fill jobs quickly. Consequently, positions are often not advertised externally, and employers resort to traditional recruiting and hiring practices, using well-established and often exclusive networks. Women are not as likely to be well represented (firmly rooted) in these networks, which include internal and external personal contacts and linkages with search firms.
Personal experiences shared at the conference illuminate some of the problems. According to one Ph.D. microbiologist, her first employer, in 1977, decided to begin hiring women only under threat of legal action. Six months before she was hired, she believes she would not even have been interviewed:
In 1977 the company hired seven women at the Ph.D. level; these were added to an existing work force of about 300 people at all levels from the B.S. through the Ph.D. The
company was pleased; they had acquired very well-qualified women who were so eager to prove themselves that they did whatever was asked. By 1986, about one-third of the middle level management was women—even though women were less than a third of the work force overall—because women had demonstrated they had the very skills the company was looking for. However, it is important to keep in mind that the company would never have known this if it had not been forced by law to hire women.8
In general, traditional recruiting and hiring practices were not consciously designed to exclude women. Nevertheless, they embody a predilection for replicating the attributes of the existing work force. In a small but growing manufacturing company where one conference participant is employed, managers responding to the question "Why haven't we hired more women?" answered:
- "We choose the best person."
- "The person must fit in with the rest of the group."
- "There weren't any women applicants."
- "We need a person who can hit the ground running."
- "The job requires long hours and weekends."
What is the result of these messages? The company has what was referred to as a "model applicant," a stereotyped perception of the ideal candidate. If an applicant fits this model and the perceived comfort level of the group, the person is hired and the group reproduces itself. Often candidates are found when employees call their colleagues at other companies. While the company is thus spared the time and expense of more thorough recruiting, the net effect is reduced access for women, particularly minority women,9 who usually are not part of that collegial network.
The Workplace Environment
The atmosphere of the workplace may be one in which women do not feel comfortable. However, subtle aspects of male-oriented culture that are hostile to women can be extremely hard to manage because they are deeply ingrained and because their impact is difficult to demonstrate.
Marion Yuen, director of advisory services for Catalyst,10 reported findings from a 1991 study of female engineers employed in 30 large corporations, ranging from aerospace and chemical utilities to manufacturers of consumer products and high technology. She noted,
Catalyst has spent many years studying working women, but seldom have research participants been as vocal about the nature of their work experiences—it is clear that female engineers really like the nature of what they do. As they enthusiastically discuss their work, they also share with us the difficult working conditions they encounter.11
Among the working conditions reported by Catalyst as inhibiting female engineers' productivity and retarding the development of their full potential—and supported in statements by both engineers and scientists at the CWSE-sponsored conference—were paternalism, sexual harassment, and the pressures associated with peers' allegations of reverse
discrimination.12 These issues and others, such as the perception of different standards for judging men and women and misunderstandings due to different styles of communication, create a negative workplace environment for women; they are discussed in what follows.
Catalyst's study found that paternalism—that is, condescending or protective treatment of women by men in authority at their companies—continues to be widespread. For instance, even though women may express the desire to be considered for a particular assignment, which may be critical for their professional development, certain work environments are often deemed inappropriate for them because they are women. Sometimes physical strength is assumed to be a necessary attribute for a particular assignment when it is really technological competence and persistence that are important in carrying out the assignment. For example, it was noted at the CWSE conference that some people still treat women geoscientists as though they, more so than male geoscientists, must be protected from the stresses and dangers associated with certain geoscience work—particularly fieldwork involving mines or ocean-going vessels.
Despite the fact that women are willing to take the necessary physical risks or make sacrifices to gain work experience, they are often not offered the opportunity. One human resource representative told Catalyst that there was sometimes a tendency to put women in staff projects because of the perception that they cannot handle themselves in the plant.
A survey of a sample of graduates of Cornell University's School of Engineering found that
[t]he women interviewed contend that in the critical early stages of women's careers, many older men in management positions tended to assume a paternalistic attitude toward them. One woman's theory was that if you work for someone who coddles you, you tend to live down to those expectations. If someone expects you to accomplish great things, you try to achieve them, learn something from your
efforts, and build your self-confidence. This paternalistic attitude is especially detrimental to women in companies which, early in their employees' careers, target those with management potential for special career development.13
Still another example of paternalism is corporate management's doubts about women's willingness or ability to handle both work and family responsibilities. This disbelief extends, very often, to doubting the future reliability of single women. This paternalistic attitude is not new. As Ehrhart and Sandler reported in their examination of women students in nontraditional fields,
[t]he devaluation that women face is evident in the perception that women are not as serious about their work. . . . "Why not stop with a B.S.? A pretty girl like you is bound to get married" is an all-too-common refrain. . . . When frequently faced with doubts about their ability and their commitment, many women, not surprisingly, lose self-esteem and career confidence. . . .14
Even if these attitudes have no basis in fact, the perception of their existence by women scientists and engineers is a fact. Thus, there is a need to establish whether the perception of many of the conference participants reflects reality.
Similarly, some women at the conference felt they were trapped in futile, patronizing relationships in their companies, the kind of relationships that graduate students sometimes have with their advisers. They felt unable to develop their own identities and maturity in the workplace.
Allegations of Reverse Discrimination
A number of conference participants cited the importance of a critical mass of women at the work site in order for individual women to succeed and advance. They noted, however, that, as the numbers of women in the work place grow, men may begin to perceive women and other underrepresented groups to be much stronger and more numerous than they actually are. They may feel threatened, and a backlash against women may occur.
Allegations of reverse discrimination—that is, charges that men are penalized because of special incentives and programs for women—also serve to contribute to a hostile work environment for women scientists and engineers. One female engineer at the conference felt she was being set up for failure by the persistent implication that she had risen to the next level only because she was female. Other conference participants, who had experienced the effects of these allegations both first-hand and indirectly, said that these allegations create or reinforce perceptions by some men and women that women, indeed, do not belong.
One way of combating this notion that women are getting all of the advantages is to provide data; some companies have begun to publish statistics more widely on how opportunities within the company are filled, including lateral transfers, promotions, and so on. More information about such activities is provided in Chapter III.
As noted by Hughes and Sandler, women in nontraditional fields, which include engineering and most fields of science, are among the four groups of women especially vulnerable to sexual harassment "because they may be perceived as 'barging into' an area where women 'don't belong' and should not be in competition with men for jobs."15 Minority women entering science and engineering (S&E) jobs in industry, it was also pointed out to the Committee, are frequently seen as "economic competitors, new on the scene, highly visible, but not of the 'in' group." Because, as recently as
25 years ago, women were advised to become homemakers, nurses, or precollege teachers, there are many fields considered to be nontraditional for women. Catalyst found that sexual harassment is evidenced, for example, by the posting of pin-ups in the workplace, nuances of language used by male co-workers, and putting the only female engineer at a business meeting on the spot by asking irrelevant, tangential, gender-related questions. For instance, in the Catalyst study, a human resources representative questioned the appropriateness of a particular job for a female engineer, saying,
The engines will finally fire up at 11:00 at night and . . . you've got to be there. . . . That's where heroes are made and that's kind of conflicting with family responsibilities.16
As employees become more informed about the nature of sexual harassment, both they and their employers may act to eliminate it. For instance, the first class-action sexual-harassment case in U.S. federal courts was settled in May 1993 against a company found "liable for creating a hostile work environment by allowing abusive graffiti and language." The state of Minnesota has sued the same company "for violating state law that prohibits sexual harassment and sex discrimination in promotions." 17 Furthermore, U.S. companies are hiring ethics officers "to develop ethics policies, listen to employees' complaints, conduct training, and investigate abuses such as sexual harassment."18
In "A Study of Occupational Departure of Employees in the Natural Sciences and Engineering," Anne Preston found only isolated instances of
overt sexual harassment and sexual discrimination among the 50 women whom she interviewed. However, a common theme among all the women interviewed was their belief that they had to work harder than men to prove themselves. Many women felt they were judged by an entirely different set of standards and that respect came slowly at best.19
At the conference, women agreed that female managers tend to be interrupted more frequently than men and that their recommendations are ignored more frequently.20 One woman felt that, from the beginning of her career, she had to build a reputation so superior that men were ill advised not to listen. After building this reputation, she felt she could never make a mistake. She went on to become senior vice-president of marketing in a major oil company, but she believes that she worked much harder than her male counterparts to get to that position. Corporate policies can work to change cultural habits that negatively affect women, but they cannot quickly undo long-term and deeply embedded cultural norms. Some of those policies to redress the effects of past policies are described in the next chapter of this report.
Both men and women at the CWSE conference said that men are often quick to challenge the findings of their female colleagues; it was also pointed out that women may be more sensitive to challenges by their
colleagues than are men. According to Preston, many of the women in her study had been proving themselves since high school, but the different standards on which they were judged only became evident during graduate school or when they entered the workplace. Few of those surveyed, however, exited a technological field because of double standards alone. The uphill battle for acceptance had become a way of life, despite its mental and emotional toll.
Similarly, in the Catalyst study, women who had been quite enthusiastic about the nature of their technological work during the training and early career stages were disappointed after choosing what they considered to be the path of more rapid advancement—management. In fact, they had chosen the more difficult path: women in the Catalyst study said that as managers they must continue to prove themselves, that their reputations are not as portable as those of their male peers, and that it was more difficult for them than for men to recover from management errors.
Conference participants tended to concur with the findings of these studies, believing that women scientists and engineers are often held to higher standards than men. This was felt to be true even for owners or chief executive officers of companies.
Styles of Communication
Some women pointed out that misunderstandings between men and women can occur in the workplace because of the different ways that men and women sometimes communicate and provide feedback. For example, when a manager says "no objection," a man often interprets the phrase to mean that he has the approval to proceed. A woman, by contrast, may interpret the phrase to mean the boss has no positive feelings about the issue: he is neither enthusiastic nor supportive, and therefore she should not proceed.21
Recent research in psychology and sociology has demonstrated that professional women tend to get person-centered feedback from their environment while professional men tend to get task-centered feedback.
Task-centered feedback consists of any response and commentary in a professional setting that is specific to the substance of the work done. . . . The commentator does not just compliment (or criticize) the performer generally or on his or her overall likability and "talent." (This would be "person-centered feedback.") Rather, the feedback (even when it is negative) continues the discussion in the direction that the presenter's work suggests. Thus, the performer can be truly flattered that the responder listened (observed, or read) closely, was instructed by the presenter's work, and has been stimulated to want to learn more.22
This phenomenon may be part of a systemic problem wherein males are not accustomed to seeing females as a source of information.
Perceptions of the Role of Women
An interesting dilemma has arisen in recent years as the work force has become diversified ethnically. Many ethnic groups have specific, sometimes limiting, perceptions of the roles of women; and, as female members of these groups are recruited more aggressively, those learned roles may prevent women, particularly minority women, from advancing in the industrial work force. For women from cultural groups that see them only as homemakers or in other "traditional female" occupations, there is a need to alter corporate cultures so that the values of nontraditional groups do not preclude contributions of women from those groups. One Hispanic scientist attending the CWSE conference noted that, in her family,
A woman's education was not as highly valued as a man's because men are supposed to be the breadwinners. Girls are raised with a different perspective and different role
models than boys, and the culture expects them to fill those distinctive gender roles.
Cultural differences can have profound effects on one's career advancement. Conference participants cited research and their own experiences to note that women in certain cultures are not encouraged to speak up or to express opinions. For instance, an Asian American mechanical engineer noted, "Being a bachelor of science and Asian, I always yield to those who are wiser, those who are older than I. That's the way I've been taught all my years."
In contrast, Cynthia Martine, a Native American engineer, revealed that, because she came from a matrilineal tribe, she was taught to be a supporter of the family. She was never told she should not go to school; rather, her grandmother insisted that education was important to "survive in this white man's world." She was also taught to say what was on her mind. As a result, she feels that her cultural background has contributed to her advancement at a major U.S. company.
We conclude that the male culture is a source of difficulty for women scientists and engineers working in industry. However, genuine as are the problems discussed in this chapter, it should be acknowledged that many women tend to defeat themselves by low estimates of their abilities, low self-confidence, and low aspirations.
A critical factor that contributes to the underrepresentation of women scientists and engineers in industry, and which also has substantial financial implications for corporations, is the high attrition rate of women in S&E fields. In general, the exit rate of women in S&E jobs is considerably higher than men's; however, the exit rates for those in industry are even more dramatic, as noted in Chapter I. Moreover, women scientists and engineers in industrial jobs are both more likely to leave technical occupations and more likely to leave the labor force altogether than women employed in other sectors.
In this section we review additional data on retention23 for women
and then discuss underlying causes of the high attrition. These include many of the problems identified in the previous section---that is, negative factors that characterize the workplace environment for women scientists and engineers in industry. Additional factors, presented in this section, are limited opportunities for career advancement, salary inequities, and work-family issues.
The analysis of the exit rate of S&E women from industry referred to in Chapter I also attempted to document the effects of observed variables on exit behavior, in particular the effects of age, field, occupation, and family characteristics. The result was that in multivariate models of exit behavior---even controlling for all these characteristics and comparing men and women with similar characteristics---women had more than twice the exit rate of men. Using these same multivariate models, the difference between the exit rate of women in industry and the exit rate of women in other sectors persisted. Figure II-1 shows the results from the multivariate model in which the ratio of exit rates is estimated. Women in industry were 30 percent more likely than women in other sectors to exit S&E jobs for other types of employment. They were about 80 percent more likely than women in government or the nonprofit sector to exit S&E jobs and actually become unemployed. Finally, women in industry were about 50 percent more likely than women in public or nonprofit jobs to exit the labor force entirely.
The Preston study revealed that men employed in private industry are 2.1 times as likely as men employed in the other sectors to leave science and engineering because of a promotion. Compared to men in the other two sectors, male scientists and engineers in private industry are 10 percent more likely to become employed outside science and engineering for reasons other than promotion, 2.4 times more likely to become unemployed, and 31 percent less likely to leave the labor force. In the areas of exit from science and engineering due to a promotion and due to unemployment, the sectoral exit
results of Anne Preston's study were presented in Chapter I. DiTomaso and her colleagues, with support from the Industrial Research Institute and the Center for Innovation Management Technology at Lehigh University, have studied the career experiences of women in industrial research and development (Nancy DiTomaso, George F. Farris, and Rene Cordero, "Women Scientists and Engineers: Gender Differences and a Model of Self-Assessment," presentation at the CWSE conference, Irvine, CA, January 17, 1993).
SOURCE: Anne Preston, "A Study of Occupational Departure of Employees in the Natural Sciences and Engineering," CWSE conference, Irvine, CA, January 17, 1993.
patterns are similar for men and women. However, women in industry are more likely to exit the labor force than women in other sectors, while men in industry are less likely to leave the labor force than are men in other sectors.
Two other findings from the study of National Science Foundation (NSF) data, for the period 1982–1989, are important. One is that exit rates were highest in the first 10 years. Beyond 10 years the exit rates of men and women begin to converge. Second, the study showed that family status, such as marriage or having children, had important effects on exit rates for both men and women, but the difference in exit rates of women across family status categories was small compared to the difference in exit rates between men and women within family status categories. Single women were much more likely to exit science and engineering than were single men. Married women without children were much more likely to
exit than married men without children, and women with children were much more likely to exit than were men with children.
A specific example discussed at the conference provides some insight. A high-tech company in Silicon Valley requested consultation due to the fact that very few senior women in the company could be retained. The pattern had been repeated over the past 5–10 years: there had been a nearly 100 percent turnover of this group of women. Two consultants met with several senior vice-presidents who were concerned about the problem as well as with senior women in the company. The women described, based on exit interviews and continuing social relationships with past female employees, how uncomfortable they had felt when they worked for the company. The senior vice-presidents believed that, when the company hired people, they were selected for excellence. However, they also made it clear that 90–95 percent of new technical employees were white men from a small number of elite universities. In the estimation of the consultants, the men from these schools formed an elitist corporate culture that excluded women's views. Therefore, it was not surprising to the consultants that women working in the company would find the environment hostile and not at all friendly to them. The senior vice-presidents failed to recognize that their views about who it was appropriate to hire were, in effect, blocking women from staying in the company, getting significant promotions, and rising to the top.24
The statistical studies and personal experiences presented at the conference documented many significant patterns and explained a great deal about exit behavior. It is important now to consider some of the underlying causes of this exit behavior.
Opportunities for Advancement
The reigning model for women entering S&E fields has been the pipeline model, which predicts that if more women enter the education and training end of the pipeline, the result will be more women emptying into the career field and progressing up the career ladder. The problem with the pipeline metaphor is that it is passive. Presumably, women enter the pipeline during the educational process, and, if they persevere, will have
opportunities to advance, like any male employee. The pipeline metaphor, however, does not take account of the possibility that the pipeline itself and the "pond" into which it empties may not be neutral.
In industry it is difficult to disprove the pipeline theory because a typical career path from entry to senior executive may take 20–25 years and there have not yet been sufficient numbers of women at the various levels to test the model. However, medicine may offer an instructive example: women have been in medicine in large numbers for the past 20 years, yet the number of women who are chairs of departments in medical schools across the United States virtually has not changed,25 and in 1992, only one U.S. medical school was headed by a female dean, Nancy Gary at the Defense Department's Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.26 Similarly, in investment banking and accounting, where an employee can move from entry level to partner in 10–12 years, women have not advanced to the extent expected. According to Strober,27
Enough women entered those fields 10–12 years ago that, if the pipeline theory were working, a much higher percentage of partners would be women than is the case today.
Barriers to women in management can be subtle or overt. It is no secret that
hiring and promotion practices have kept top management
jobs overwhelmingly for white males for a quarter of a century after the Civil Rights Act guaranteed equal employment opportunities for women and minorities. Preliminary results from a new study by Korn Ferry show that 95% of the top executive jobs are held by white males.28
Some corporate leaders are aware that the talent pool of women, particularly minority women, in science and engineering has largely been underutilized, although this pool offers potential managerial expertise. For instance, as DuPont executives have pointed out:29
Companies which are doing well in providing upward mobility are the ones that have been willing [to promote] women and minorities to the upper echelons. They have found that with proper preparation, these people are coming through for them. . . .30
There is a great satisfaction when an employee in a really demanding job comes through for you. This is especially true for women and minorities because they are newer to management ranks. Each time that happens, the management gains added confidence in giving the next person a chance at a demanding assignment.31
The formal presentations and discussions at the CWSE conference revealed a variety of business and personal reasons for women scientists
and engineers to pursue a management career. U.S. companies are coming to realize that "diversity of talent, experience, and perspective is good for business," according to Barbara Link, manager of application engineering at General Electric Corporation. At the same time, women have many personal reasons for moving from the technical to the management career ladder, including:
- the ability to have a larger impact on the company's success;
- the opportunity to use their communication and interpersonal skills in a people-focused, as well as a product-focused, situation;
- challenges to use a variety of skills, in areas such as leadership, budget and money management, and technology; and
- greater opportunities for advancement, recognition, and rewards.
One way to advance in industry is by moving laterally. Other conference participants agreed with Cynthia Martine, a Native American engineer employed at Eastman Kodak Company: "It is to your advantage to move around [in a company] so that you can gain experience from all sides of the business." However, lateral moves may be perceived by women as risky, particularly since women's reputations are often not as portable as men's.32 According to a microbiologist attending the CWSE conference, promotion was almost always bestowed on those who had taken lateral transfers, but some women do not seem to be comfortable with that strategy.
Certainly there are no hard and fast rules on how to succeed in management; one vice-president of engineering said at the conference:
I have a continually evolving view of what it takes to move up the management chain in industry and how to change the environment along the way. What has impressed me recently is that the rules, or maybe the emphasis on the rules, change quite a bit as one moves up the management ladder.33
However, both women and men sometimes have difficulties in companies because they fail to understand what is required for promotion. Women tend to believe that if they work hard and do a fine job, they will be rewarded. Conference participants described personal experiences showing that rewards often do not result from such effort. Instead, many conferees emphasized the importance of becoming visible to upper management, to let them know what you have accomplished and that you are ready for promotion. While men also may find it difficult to do this, it may be more difficult for some women, those who are less assertive.
In some of the companies studied by Catalyst, the top levels of management had indeed been drawn from engineering ranks. In general, however, the highest level that most female engineers reached was the third or the fourth level beyond entry level. Interestingly, even in companies where there were women in top management positions, some female engineers still felt they were stuck at the third or fourth level beyond entry level.34
Preliminary findings from a Families and Work Institute (FWI) study, "Barriers and Opportunities for Women Scientists and Engineers in the Pharmaceutical and Automotive Industries," revealed some interesting disparities between men's and women's views about career opportunities and also a paradox that may say something disturbing about women's expectations. When women and men were asked "Does your company do a good job of developing employees?," neither women nor men gave their companies very high marks (Figure II-2). However, men's confidence in career development increased as they moved from early-to mid-career, presumably because of their own rewarding career experiences. In contrast, many women who started off quite sanguine about career opportunities had become disillusioned by mid-career.
Arlene Johnson, vice-president of FWI, found it interesting to compare these findings to responses to the statement "My supervisor values my work." In the three age groups of the FWI study,35 men consistently
Systems, speaking at the CWSE conference, Irvine, CA, January 17, 1993.
SOURCE: Arlene Johnson, "Barriers and Opportunities for Women Scientists and Engineers in the Pharmaceutical and Automotive Industries," CWSE conference, Irvine, CA, January 17, 1993.
perceived their work to be valued while women consistently believed their work to be undervalued.
What is suggested is that younger women may be preoccupied with the impression they create, but they have confidence in the system, whereas older or mid-career women feel more confident in their skills and how they are being valued in their own work group, but many have lost confidence that the system will work for them.36
Not surprisingly, when women and men were asked whether women have the same opportunities for advancement, they disagreed. Most men believed there was equal opportunity, and this finding was fairly constant across the three age groups. Women's skepticism about equal opportunity, however, became more hardened with their years of experience.37
There is, however, a paradox. When asked "Is this a good company for women and minorities?," women in the FWI study---with the exception of the late-career group---were quite complimentary toward their companies. Of the mid-career group of women, only 20 percent thought they had equal opportunity, but 68 percent said the company was a good one for women and minorities. Ms. Johnson's speculation about this paradox was:
First, each of these companies had recently promulgated some new policies and programs, either in recruitment and retention or in the work and family areas. Perhaps these companies were getting a great deal of credit for announcing the programs, even though the effects of the programs had not yet been felt. Second, what might also be suggested is that the doors are, in fact, closed---that is, women do not have equal opportunity, but neither do they expect it, and in the end, they feel they will not do better elsewhere.
The latter explanation is disturbing. It suggests that women in corporations are not capable of creating change, and that there will be no groundswell in these companies. If women continue to perceive that their companies are not as bad as others and that situations really cannot get any better, then they have no motivation for taking the risks necessary to advocate for change.38
Another important factor contributing to the high attrition of women from S&E employment is inequitable salary treatment:
Average annual salaries of women scientists and engineers are lower than those of men. This difference may stem at least in part from differences in degree fields, degree levels, experience levels, employment sectors, labor market behavior, or a combination of these variables.39
In its latest report detailing salaries for scientists and engineers, NSF reports:
In 1986, the average annual salaries of women scientists and engineers were about 75 percent of men's salaries. In 1990, the median annual salary for women who had received S&E bachelor's degrees in 1988 or 1989 was $21,000, about 73 percent of the $29,500 median salary of men. For recent master's S&E degree recipients in 1990 (degree granted in 1988 or 1989), the ratio was 84 percent ($32,800 for women versus $39,000 for men). In 1989, among Ph.D.'s with one year or less of professional experience, the median salary for women ($35,500) was 88 percent of the median salary for men ($40,400).
In comparison, ratios of women's salaries to men's in the overall work force in 1990 (based on median weekly earnings) were 73 percent for all full-time wage and salary workers over age 25, 74 percent for full-time wage and salary workers in professional occupations, and 89 percent for full-time wage and salary engineers. [These differences were] partially due to the relatively low salaries earned by individuals in psychology, the life sciences, and the social sciences. In the computer specialties---the fastest growing
field for both women and men during the eighties—women's salaries averaged about 85 percent of those for men. For engineers, the salary ratio was 83 percent, with some fluctuations among major engineering fields.
Women doctoral scientists with one year or less of professional experience earned 96 percent of what men earned ($35,200 versus $36,700) and engineers 98 percent ($47,700 versus $48,500). By field, the ratio for doctoral scientists ranged from 89 percent (environmental sciences) to 104 percent (psychology).40
Although women may experience higher starting salaries than men,41 eventually the salaries of men exceed those of women who have attained the same degree level and years of experience.
Scant literature exists on racial differences in earnings among females, by S&E subfield. However, NSF reports:
Salary discrepancies exist not only between men and women, but between women of different races. Whites earned the highest average annual salaries among women scientists and engineers. In 1986, white women scientists earned an average of $29,400, compared with $28,800 for Asian42 women scientists and $25,400 for black women
scientists. Among engineers, Asian women earned the highest annual salary—an average of $35,000 in 1986. Comparable salaries for white women engineers and black women engineers were $34,300 and $32,900, respectively. At the doctoral level in 1989, Asian women again had the highest median salaries—$45,800 compared with $44,700 for white women, $44,400 for black women, and $43,500 for Native American women.
Regardless of racial group, women scientists and engineers reported median annual salaries lower than those of men of the same race. The differential between the salaries of Asian women and Asian men was the largest. In 1986, Asian women earned salaries equal to 74 percent of Asian men's salaries, black women's median salaries were equal to 78 percent of black men's salaries, and white women's salaries were equal to 76 percent of white men's salaries. Among doctoral scientists, the differences between women's and men's salaries were not as large. In 1989, at the doctoral level, black women's salaries were 87 percent of black men's salaries, Asian women's salaries were 82 percent of Asian men's, and white women's were 79 percent of white men's.43
Research has shown that many minority women experience discrimination based on both sex and ethnicity—for instance, minority women have more difficulty accessing higher-paying occupations than do Caucasian women, even after controlling for such factors as schooling and work.
According to Jacqueline M. Akinpelu, head of the Network Capacity Operation Systems Planning Department, AT&T Bell Laboratories,
(e.g., Pacific Islanders, Filipinos, Koreans) has a different participation rate within science and engineering, and all subgroups should not be treated as a single group.
Balance between career and personal life will almost always become a critical issue. In order to handle it effectively, you must always retain responsibility for managing your own expectations and defining your success. This is especially difficult for the woman highly motivated by achievement and recognition on the job.44
Women and men who choose to both practice science and engineering and have families must face reality: it is difficult to achieve both career and family success. A male scientist reported to the Committee on Women in Science and Engineering:
Men, for whatever reason, generally put job ahead of family. The results are often disastrous on the family front and men regret that they did not do more with their family, both wife and children. But all this says, nevertheless, is that most people cannot excel at both. This is true for men as well as for women.
Thus, addressing work-family issues is essential if companies are to achieve high retention of their employees, both women and men, who have family responsibilities. As is reported in all employment sectors, conference participants cited family issues, particularly motherhood, as a major reason that an industry women are not promoted as often as men. One conference presenter defined "a mother's dilemma":
how to continue working at the exciting career she's trained for while also wanting and/or needing to spend time with her children, whether they are toddlers or teenagers, without being drop-kicked out of the race to advance and into the dead-end career zone at work.45
Other conference participants agreed that, once a woman becomes a mother,
it is nearly impossible to avoid being treated differently. This is especially true if she experiences her pregnancy while on the job. Following her return to work, frequently she is given assignments that are less desirable, those that involve limited travel, and those that involve less physical risk.
To prevent negative career effects, many women are careful to time their pregnancies. One conference participant described her strategy this way, and others agreed that it was a good approach:
I think it is possible to have a family in this company, but you have to time it. Wait until you get the promotion, but then don't have the children too late. You have to be careful not to advance so far, and then get knocked out of consideration because of having children.
This confirms findings of a recent international study by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, economists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign:
Only the United States fails to guarantee the right to maternity leave beyond the period of actual disability. Indeed, most other countries guarantee time off with pay for both pregnancy and care for infants. It thus seems likely that more American women are forced to choose between high-paying careers and motherhood.46
Negative career effects can extend to women who are not married and not pregnant. Women at one company spoke of interviewing for positions within the company and being asked, "Are you married?" or "Are you going to have children?" These are illegal questions, but they are being asked widely anyway. One woman reported that she was denied a promotion because she had children, and another woman in the same focus group hid her pregnancy for 7 1/2 months because she was seeking a promotion.47 Discrimination against pregnant women does continue, despite federal legislation. In fact,
[t]hough 64% of the pregnancy discrimination claimants [in a 5-year study] worked for employers with 50 or more employees and would have been protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act [effective August 5, 1993], the remaining 36% of the women worked for companies too small to be covered.48
Women are advocating change in pregnancy and parental leave policies. Even in companies where maternity leave can be negotiated, the long-term question for women often is how to manage the pressure of the job and the demands of family. The length of the workday in industry, contrary to popular belief, is not predictable. The hours—very often beyond 40 per week—and on-the-job demands lead to what some call an unofficial competition for whose face can be seen the longest in the workplace. The energy addressed to this topic in focus groups of women of all ages in the FWI study, "Barriers and Opportunities for Women Scientists and Engineers in the Pharmaceutical and Automotive Industries," suggests that this is the pivotal issue that differentiates men's and women's career stages:49
Work-family policies [of a company] did not appear to affect recruitment, but they became very important when deciding whether to stay in a job, especially for early careerists. When survey respondents were asked, "How important is the balancing of your personal life with work?," it became very important for mid-careerists. It was
also notably important to men, much more so perhaps than many companies recognize.
Women in all career stages agreed that one of the greatest influences on their career was managing maternity. Many women perceived that taking time off to have a child is detrimental to one's career, in part because becoming a mother is taken as a sign that a woman is not dedicated to her job. Younger men, in particular, concurred with this perception. As one woman in the FWI study put it, "They feel that your priorities change, so they redirect your career path so as not to invest in you for the long-term." Another female FWI interviewee said, "We have three pregnant women now in our group, and they know they will not be promoted."50
An interesting control group, or comparison, would be single-parent males and single-parent females. This could help to separate parenthood effects on career from gender effects on career. Narrow age cohorts would also contribute to an understanding of these effects since younger people, both women and men, are more sensitive to this issue.
How a company addresses dependent care, whether for one's children or one's parents (often called "elder care"), can also affect its ability to retain women scientists and engineers. A recent study by DiTomaso et al.51 revealed that women with dependents had much more difficulty with dependent care than men with dependents, with one exception. Women experienced less difficulty when their spouse traveled than men did. The study by DiTomaso et al. also found a high correlation between the highest performers in the workplace, both men and women, and those who have
preschool children, which suggests that this should be a bottom-line issue for companies.
Men and women in "A Study of Occupational Departure of Employees in the Natural Sciences and Engineering," conducted by Anne Preston, were asked how they divided household chores and child-care responsibilities. Respondents, both women and men, agreed that women are responsible for about two-thirds of the household chores and child-care responsibilities. Clearly then, how to balance family and career remains more of a female consideration. What is striking is that the men and women of the sample were at much the same stages of their careers, were almost the same age, and had similar experience levels.52
An examination of the employment status of men and women in that study reveals a big difference between how men and women deal with family issues. Fourteen percent of the women were working part-time; only 1 percent of the men were. Sixteen percent of the women were not working, and a majority of them were not working for family reasons. Only 4 percent of the men were not working, and none had left because of family reasons. Women often seek flexible working arrangements. In her study, Dr. Preston found that women who held bachelor's and master's degrees were, in general, trying to establish a scientific career in industry or government. However, the women who found jobs in private industry were often stymied by the inflexibility of their companies regarding child-care issues. In particular, these women talked about an inability to obtain part-time work and flexible scheduling. Many women mentioned companies that were inflexible about their taking time off for sick children.
It is seen by some that the issue is structural to employment rather than to gender. One male scientist reported to the Committee:
Work [in industry] is viewed by the organization as central, and anything that interferes with it is discouraged, for both men and women equally. The driving force in work is that an organization must compete with others serving the same market.
However, as will be detailed in the next chapter, many large companies have
found it possible (possibly advantageous) to make available part time work and some flexibility in hours. In any case, Preston's research found that,
when these barriers begin to influence negatively the women's lives, they often leave the labor force for a while. When they return to industrial employment, it is often difficult to return to science and engineering, which have progressed in their absence; they begin new occupations.53
To prevent the collision of family and job commitments, women long for more flexibility. One FWI interviewee said,
I enjoy working for this company, but there is no way that I will be able to devote as much time to work when I have a family. Work in this company has to be your number one priority. My management and all the people who have been successful have sacrificed their family and personal life.54
Corporate research shows that this pattern of unilateral dedication to the job and sacrificing of family interactions is found for both women and men.55
The principal problem that men and women in the FWI study reported about work-family programs was that the very companies that were touted for their "family-friendly" policies were often those where people were afraid to use the programs for fear of being penalized. Therefore, the key, as some said, is to "decriminalize" part-time work and to make job-sharing and part-time employment viable options for committed careerists.56
A third work-family issue is how companies accommodate dual-career couples. According to Preston, "Many Ph.D. women are looking to private industry as a solution, particularly with regard to dual-career problems."57 They perceived industry as having more jobs, jobs that are more geographically dispersed, and jobs that do not require outside funding. Although these women saw industry as a solution, it was also a compromise. Moving to industry, as they perceived it coming out of graduate school, meant taking a less prestigious job.58
Many companies take pride in employing multiple members of the same family. However, several conference participants reported that other companies still will not hire two people from the same family. Certainly, few companies will hire two family members for the same department because it is considered, in general, poor management practice. As a result, many times, when one spouse gets an industrial job, the other must take a teaching job in a community college. It may be underutilization of the spouse, but at least it is a job, whereas there may be no chance for a second industrial job.
Furthermore, competitor-exclusion rules in companies also work against dual careers. For example, if a woman is working for pharmaceutical company A, pharmaceutical company B will not hire her husband because of the possibility of their sharing competitors' secrets. In that case she is unlikely to take the job in the first place because doing so might eliminate his chances for a job and therefore reduce the family income. A man can also not take the job because doing so might eliminate his wife's chance of a job, with similar results. However, this seems to occur less frequently.
Particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, there is the problem of geography. Most companies are situated on the East and West coasts. if one spouse gets a job with the only pharmaceutical company in a particular city, there often is no second company or related pharmaceutical job for the other spouse; Jane S. Allen, a toxicologist at GLAXO Inc., noted, however, that this company has "no rules forbidding employment of spouses." In engineering the situation is better; companies are more widely dispersed geographically.
Being a scientist or engineer in a dual-career marriage has profound
effects and influences on both individuals, the marriage, and probably their companies as well. A computer scientist described her dual-career marriage—one that is without children but involves a parent who is partially handicapped—as difficult but workable and, in the longterm, satisfying. She and her husband have similar technological backgrounds. They met in graduate school and actually worked and were recruited together because of the similarities in their training. From the start the couple decided to give their careers equal priority, a decision that is probably more common at the Ph.D. level. Although they both thought their first jobs would be in academe, in fact, the academic job offers were in parts of the country or at universities where equally challenging opportunities were not available for both of them. Consequently, they began their careers in industry, something they consider to be positive today because they have gained experience in areas they probably would not have chosen otherwise. The couple has been together for about 16 years and, according to the speaker, it took probably half of that time to work out a balance where they found it easy to be in the same field. Several factors made their dual-career marriage work. First, they developed personal identities and mutual respect. Second, when the couple worked in the same place, each was direct about his or her responsibilities, work schedules, and long-term plans. Mutual cooperation, communication, and compromise were absolutely necessary.
Balance between career and personal life will always be a stressful issue for women, perhaps more so for those in management because of their increased visibility and responsibility in the workplace. It is potentially as stressful for men, reported a male scientist. However, one female scientist at the conference felt that, in order to balance career and family issues effectively,
[w]omen must retain responsibility for managing their own expectations and definitions of success. That is difficult to do in the corporate environment because there is a strong male-established definition of what it means to be successful.59
As regards the many corporate practices that make it more difficult for women to perform their jobs and to advance, we note that there is nothing
inherently valid or invalid about the way companies or businesses are organized and operate; policies take on a life of their own, and because they exist, they appear to be valid.
A solution for this problem, according to Strober and Jackman, would be to provide feedback to all executives, who are often the defenders of these patterns and policies.60 They could be informed of policies that undermine the capacity of women to function and to advance in the organization and of the losses to the company of employees who have the intelligence and skills to do the job but whose efforts and career paths have been hindered. As is discussed in the next chapter, considerable progress has already been made in this direction.