For years, we've heard about the glass ceiling for women. This imaginary thing that holds them back from moving up the corporate ladder, especially when it comes to upper management positions. I believe that it no longer exists on a wide scale, and that women are represented in extremely small numbers at the top of corporate America because of the life choices they make.
Yes, there are instances of discrimination against women. But I don't believe there's a wide scale conspiracy by men to hold women down. Companies want the best talent available, no matter the gender or other irrelevant characteristics. They'd be stupid to not promote a qualified woman just because she's a woman. Women are kept out of the higher ranks because, by and large, there aren't enough of them with the requisite experience for the positions.
And now we have a new concern... Something referred to as a "glass cliff." Corporations are being accused of putting women "...into risky, difficult jobs where the chances of failure are higher." No, this isn't a joke. People really believe this. First women aren't being promoted enough, and now they're being promoted because someone wants them to fail.
A study was done on large companies and their board appointments. After studying the appointments of both men and women to board seats, it was determined that the companies appointing a woman had an increase in stock price after the appointment. That sounds good, but the study also found that women were more likely to be appointed to a board at a company that was experiencing poor performance.
The conclusion: Women are being appointed to boards of weaker companies, which is setting them up to fail. They are a part of companies at a higher risk of failure, and the implication is that somehow women may unfairly be held responsible for some of that failure.
Frankly, I don't buy this theory. I don't dispute the figures, but I have a problem with the conclusion. I don't believe that there is some grand conspiracy to appoint women to positions in which they're almost destined to fail. This is just another instance of companies being "damned if they do, and damned if they don't."
If they don't appoint women to board seats and upper management positions, they're discriminating. If they do appoint them, then there is something else sinister going on. Studies like these don't help the situation. In fact, studies on the issue of women advancing in the workplace are largely a waste of time and money.
Those who are so interested in advancing the interests of women in corporations should instead put into place programs that teach women what they must do to reach upper management positions. Train them and guide them, but quit giving women excuses for not reaching upper management positions. Empower them to get there, don't just give them excuses for not getting there.
Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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