I find this very interesting. I’ve worked in major corporations for over 30 years and this story is, in my experience, very common. There is a vast difference between a company saying it “wants” to promote women equally, and then actually doing so and the reasons are to be sure quite complex.
When I was a young executive (and I do mean young, only 23) at CBS Records in New York, I was one of a handful of women in a company dominated by men. I was actually recruited, meaning they went to San Francisco, to the local CBS Records office, and yanked me out and took me to New York. My boss was 15 years older than me and so were all the other men. They recruited me, they interviewed me, they moved me, they paid me (not what my predecessor had been making by a long shot, like $50,000 less than he was making and they fired him to hire me!).
But that is where it stopped. Because you can be sitting in a room doing your job brilliantly and still not be part of “the club.” This is what is unspoken and hard to crack. One of the women with whom I worked used to say that in order to be considered one of the guys, you had to have the courage to walk into the men’s room mid-sentence. Another would say that business is done on the golf course and the tennis club and in the sauna, where women are not allowed. Still another would say that it’s easier for guys to “travel” with guys. And yet another would say that women didn’t want to stay out at the clubs tracking bands as late as the guys and this was perceived as an unwillingness to do whatever it takes to rise to the top of the company.
I think it is very hard, if not impossible, to make generalizations as to “why” it happens: are most of the engineers at Google men and are they therefore the ones who are promoted? And if so, why aren’t there more women engineers? Questions questions questions, but very few answers.
All I know is that the stats, whether it’s Google or any other company, are not good. Should we, in 2012, be jumping up and down about one more woman, a comely young pregnant one becoming Chief at Yahoo? Shouldn’t it be de rigeur by now? Should we be jumping up and down about a woman being Chief of Time? Shouldn’t that, too, be de rigeur by now?
Is the answer that men simply do things differently than women at the work place? Is the answer that fewer women do things they way men do at the work place? Is the answer that in a company started by men there will always be more men at the top? Is there some unspoken issue at work because so many women, when they marry and have children decide to leave the work place?
Google has the reputation of being as open to talented women as to talented men:
“We get incredible women into the company, and we work hard at getting incredible women,” said Alan Eustace, senior vice president of knowledge at Google. “I wish we could say we’re amazingly successful and closing in on 50 percent women, but it’s not true.”
Google’s data-filled spreadsheets, for example, showed that some women who applied for jobs did not make it past the phone interview. The reason was that the women did not flaunt their achievements, so interviewers judged them unaccomplished. Google now asks interviewers to report candidates’ answers in more detail. Google also found that women who turned down job offers had interviewed only with men. Now, a woman interviewing at Google will meet other women during the hiring process.
I don’t have the answer. But what I do know is that from my early years as a 23 year old Executive at CBS Records some things seem not to have changed very much and I am beginning to think it is a cultural issue in the ways men want to work at business and the ways women want to work at business.
But something is clearly going on. Otherwise, why is this story front and center on the Times online tonight? I have tremendous respect for the executives at Google who are concerned about it and have spoken up. That is the first pointer toward change.
Would love to hear your thoughts if you are so inclined….