Smith Brain Trust / November 17, 2022

A Different Perspective on Whether Corporate America is Failing Women

A Different Perspective on Whether Corporate America is Failing Women

Online career platform, The Muse reports corporate America is still failing women in 2022.

But Rajshree Agarwal, Rudolph Lamone Chair of Strategy and Enterprise and Director of the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business says, “the article does not do justice to the underlying complexities of the situation.”

Agarwal has co-authored research that shows corporate America has made significant strides, particularly in addressing gender inequity in pay, even more than what’s being done in academia. However, she says, “in both sectors, our research shows that ascension to leadership positions is an issue,” something mirrored by the 2022 Women in the Workplace Report.

The Muse article cites that study and details 11 reasons companies are still failing women. Among them: women deal with a broken rung in promotion to managerial positions, and encounter more obstacles to advancement. In response Agarwal says, “the issue is not only about bias and discrimination in the workplace, but also about cultural norms and differences in gender roles.” The Women in the Workplace survey finds women disproportionately shoulder childcare and housework responsibilities at every work level - whether they are entry-level workers or they’re in the C-Suite. “Such cultural norms and gender roles imply”, says Agarwal, “that it is important for women to negotiate roles, responsibilities and rewards at home, just as they do in the workplace.”

Agarwal’s take on this mirrors that of Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Facebook and Meta Platforms, and Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsico. Sandberg is the founder of LeanIn.Org, which along with McKinsey & Company, puts out the annual Women in the Workplace Report.

According to the report, women leaders are switching jobs at the highest rate we’ve ever seen—and at a higher rate than men in leadership. Agarwal says, “that may seem like a failure, but I see this as an encouraging sign because women are willing to exercise their mobility options.” Her research on employee mobility and entrepreneurship showcases how workers can benefit in terms of promotion and compensation when they move across organizations, or even when they stay, but can credibly threaten to leave.

Women in the Workplace says working remotely is especially important to women, with only 1 in 10 wanting to work mostly on-site. But Agarwal warns that an increase in remote work for women may not always lead to positive outcomes. Going back to the fact that women take on more of the load when it comes to housework, she notes that the added flexibility of working from home can come with a cost. “They now have no separation (between job and home duties), and an increased need for juggling can cause more burnout.”

The study also says women experience fewer microaggressions when they work remotely – at least some of the time. But, Agarwal points to an NPR article on the Project Include Survey that shows some women are experiencing more gender and racial harassment because of remote work. That study involved women who work in the tech field, but Agarwal says she, “has no reason to expect that it is not true across the board.” Researcher Caroline Sinders, who worked on Project Include told NPR, “many of the software tools remote workers rely on like video chat and messaging apps were not designed to mitigate harassment.”

As earlier indicated, Agarwal believes the title of The Muse article referenced here, “11 Ways Corporate America is Still Failing Women in 2022”, is simplistic, may be sensational, and doesn’t offer a more nuanced perspective on the underlying complex issues. But she’s also encouraged by the fact that “we have made significant strides and are continuing to discuss these difficult issues and trying to address them.”

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