Volume 79, Number 27
CENEAR 79 27 p.
|[Previous Story] [Next Story]
All it takes is a peek into the corner offices at top companies to realize that women still are not percolating into the upper echelons of industry. Only four women head Fortune 500 companies today--a meager 0.8%. Expanding to the Fortune 1,000 nets only four more women chief executive officers--still 0.8%.
In her book "Why So Slow The Advancement of Women," Virginia Valian, a psychologist at Hunter College of the City University of New York, attributes much of the problem to "gender schemas," a set of subconscious hypotheses about sex differences that both men and women hold. In these schemas, men are perceived as being better suited to professional success.
Thus, men's performance is overrated in light of positive expectations, while women's performance--regardless of quality--is underrated. Even slight differences in evaluation lead to an accumulation of advantage for men over their careers and prevent women from advancing as far as they could.
GENDER BARRIERS still impede women's progress in industry, but those barriers are more subtle than they used to be, says L. Shannon Davis, who is the commercial development manager in the new ventures/digital strategy group at Solutia. "The overt stuff is gone. I do think that there still exists a fair amount of very subtle bias that shows up in the placement of women in particular jobs in industry," she says. "When women show up in very large numbers in staff positions instead of line positions, when the women are all going to the total quality jobs, the communications jobs, human resources, public relations, finance, they're never going to be business managers that way because they're never going to get the product line business experience that they have to have to ultimately be a business leader."
Managers must force themselves to recognize their own biases, Davis says. "Everybody has them, and that's not a bad thing. The bad thing is when you don't know them and you let those things impact people's lives for no good reason."
Davis is uncertain whether simply looking at the population of women at the very highest levels accurately portrays the successful penetration of women scientists in industry. "Women who want to stay career scientists are going to make those choices over and over again over the course of their careers and won't ever show up on the Fortune 500 list. At the end of the day, it's about your personal choice," she says.
In 1999, Catalyst--a New York City-based organization that works for the advancement of women in business and the professions--published a pilot study of women scientists in industry in which it interviewed 30 women. It found that women are given little information about the job market for industrial careers. Nearly a third of the women interviewed went into industry not because they were recruited into it, but because they felt unwelcome in academia.
Mary C. Mattis, a senior research fellow at Catalyst and director of the study, says industry needs to improve its recruitment of women. "They need to use their women scientists to talk about what's fulfilling about working in industry."
However, recruitment is not as large a problem as retention. "You can't retain people unless you have advanced some women who can be role models and give the women beneath them the encouragement that they can succeed," Mattis says. "The retention issues go to how you're managing some of the unique issues for women, such as finding ways of providing flexibility. When women need to take more time to manage their families at a certain point in their lives, you recognize that's not forever and that it really is worth the investment to make it possible for them to do that."
Despite the dismal number of women who have reached the top of the corporate ladder, women in lower and middle management are enjoying their careers. Here, a number of women share their stories and offer advice to other women.
MANY SUCCESSFUL moves involve both the familiar and the unfamiliar. "In most cases, you move with one foot on your strengths and the other foot hanging out in the new area," Martin says. "When I moved from research to management of research, I was in the same department. When I moved from research to marketing, I stayed in the same business but changed functions. Then I stayed in marketing but moved businesses." She describes the move to investor relations as a "flying leap," noting that those are sometimes necessary, too.
Amber S. Hinkle is a laboratory manager for a quality assurance and process improvement laboratory at Bayer's Baytown, Texas, polycarbonate facility, where she is on the senior management team. Hinkle is the only female manager at her facility, but she reports to a woman vice president. Other Bayer divisions are also located at that site, and three out of 10 people on the senior management team for the whole site, a different team from the one Hinkle is on, are women. "That's pretty good, especially for a chemical plant in Texas," Hinkle says. "At the technical level, trying to attract women engineers and chemists in general is kind of difficult because we're in a chemical plant."
Working in a chemical plant is a harsh environment. "People forget that there are very different climates within industry. Working at a chemical plant is very different from people who work in a research laboratory," Hinkle says. "We wear steel-toed boots and hard hats every day. You have to ride a bicycle from the parking lot into your facility. You can't just drive up and park in a nice parking spot."
Hinkle has been well supported by her management and has advanced quickly in the six years she's been at Bayer. "I've been slotted for executive management, so I'm being sent to the executive management courses," she says. "One of the traditional pathways for advancement is spending time in a foreign assignment. That may not be right for me and my family." Hinkle recently went on maternity leave to have her first child.
"I can see that I may come up against something that I perhaps want to challenge. Why is this the normal pathway Do people really benefit from this What are the other options" Hinkle explains. "There are some issues that I just don't think men have challenged yet. Women seem to challenge a lot of those things first, but it works out well for everybody."
Uma Chowdhry has been given a variety of opportunities in the 20-plus years she's been at DuPont. She is currently the director of DuPont Engineering Technology in Wilmington, Del. She was the first woman to be a lab director at DuPont's Experimental Station. "In DuPont, there is quite a lot of support for moving women and minorities into new positions of responsibility," she says.
However, women's performance is observed closely, "through a 1,0003 magnifying glass," Chowdhry says. " 'Give them yet one more experience and see how they perform before we give them any executive management responsibility. Let's give the women more experiences so we set them up for success.' Women in general have to outperform themselves and their peers to be considered for opportunities with a high degree of responsibility."
WOMEN NEED to prove themselves repeatedly, despite their track record, Chowdhry emphasizes. She believes that these barriers are societal and can be found in all walks of life. She hopes that her generation will have "paved the way" for subsequent generations.
Elizabeth A. Piocos, a senior scientist at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, believes that her company's strong policy on diversity has helped not just women but other minorities as well. She believes that P&G's policy of promoting people based on sustained contribution makes for a level playing field. "In the end, you cannot be promoted for your technical competence, assertiveness, or goal-oriented attitude because this is what the company recruited you for. You are promoted on how you have impacted the business not once but many times," she says.
Katherine M. Wortley worked as a product development chemist for four years at S. C. Johnson in Racine, Wis., after graduating with a bachelor's degree. "I was working as a professional scientist. There was not as much emphasis then on advanced degrees as there is now. But even then, I realized that I needed to go on and expand my education to improve my advancement in my career." She returned to school and earned a Ph.D. in pharmacology.
Wortley knew quickly in graduate school that she wanted to go back into industry when she finished her Ph.D. "I liked the challenges of working with something I could see, that would go into the marketplace," she says. "I like being able to see the results and know that it impacts people." Wortley is now a regulatory affairs specialist in the diagnostics division at Abbott Laboratories, in Abbott Park, Ill.
However, Wortley has never felt held back, except of her own volition. "No one else has held me back because I'm a parent or a woman. I have reined my own career in at times to get the balance that I felt was appropriate for me," she says. "I strongly believe that women or anyone should be able to make it where they want to go with the right amount of initiative. But you have to decide where you're going."
One of the challenges for women with child-care responsibilities is the idea of "face time," or the amount of time spent in the lab or office. "A lot of us in the workforce link the length of time you spend in the office with productivity," Piocos says. "The challenge is to put the term 'productivity' in context. Should it be linked to the length of time you are on the job A lot of people are still on the job even when they are not physically in the workplace.
"There is also the known fact that multitasking, which comes second nature to a lot of women, makes for a productive eight hours on the job," Piocos continues. "When I had my daughter, what has made me as productive as before--if not more--is multitasking even more, making priority calls based on what is important and urgent, rather than on what is just urgent, and partnering more effectively not only with my colleagues and managers but with my husband as well."
Women interviewed by C&EN that hold a B.S. degree as their highest degree say that they have seen more obstacles because of their education level than because of their gender. Deborah H. Carter, director of product development at Pace International, an agricultural chemicals company in Wapato, Wash., says: "Because I don't have an advanced degree, I would expect that I would not be as high as I am. These director's jobs are usually held by a Ph.D. chemist."
Carter has had to deal with being both African American and female. "A lot of times, prejudices are subtle, and you're not truly aware of how you're affected," she says. "You go in, you do your job, you think you're doing it well, but you don't always get the recognition you think you deserve. You may not be aware of what you're missing out on."
Jody A. Kocsis, another B.S. chemist, serves as technology manager for engine oil development in the fluids transportation technology department at Lubrizol. "You have more opportunities with a Ph.D. than you do with a B.S. You have to work harder as a B.S. chemist," she says. "To get where I am today, I had to really work hard to prove to others that I could do the job."
Kocsis has also faced the challenge of successfully balancing her work and personal lives. Her three-year-old son had health problems when he was born. For two-and-a-half years, Kocsis participated in a "work/life arrangement" in which she worked 32.5 hours each week, with Fridays off. "I have been successful in not putting my career on hold. Lubrizol understood that my first priority is my family. As a result, they gained a very committed employee," Kocsis says.
"If you're looking to put in a type of program like this, you need to have support all the way up," Kocsis says. "That's the key to keeping these programs alive. You've got to have management's clear support, or it's not going to stick." WIT is visibly sponsored and actively supported by Stephen A. Di Biase, vice president of research and development at Lubrizol.
Recently, WIT sponsored a forum to tell Lubrizol's employees about the availability of work/life arrangements, such as the one Kocsis used. "Our goal was to show that you can do these things, but it's not an entitlement," Kocsis says. "It doesn't fit all jobs, and it needs to be earned. We also have to understand that we can't put our business at risk."
The need for women to have mentors was raised repeatedly. "I would argue that having a mentor is one of the most critical components to success that you can have," Davis says. Furthermore, "not having 'a' mentor, either, but having several in several different positions in your company" is crucial.
Carter agrees. "Women have to realize that just one mentor may not be enough. You may have to find multiple people to mentor you."
Although most of the women say that having a female mentor could be helpful, no one says it's a necessity. "I would argue," Davis says, "that it's not a requirement that mentors be female. It's nice, because there are things about having a family and raising children that it's nice to have a woman to talk to, but it doesn't necessarily mean because you share a gender that you're going to share experiences." The main requirement is that the mentor--male or female--be interested in advancing a woman's career.
Martin advocates having both men and women as mentors. For topics such as professional opportunities and work/family balance, a woman's perspective can be helpful. "I think having the broadest network of mentors and affiliates that you can have, the better off you are," she says. At Rohm and Haas, an informal mentoring network has developed, Martin says. "We try to get people together every couple of months after work, just to get the newer people together and remind them that there's as many of them as there are."
Besides finding mentors, a more general network is also important. When Wortley first came to Abbott, she joined the women's golf league. She didn't know how to play golf, but she learned. "Putting yourself in situations where you're going to be meeting people is probably the most efficient way to start making a network," she says.
"You're the head of your career," Wood-Black says. "You're essentially You Inc. If you're not getting the advice from your immediate supervisor, find someone to talk to that might give you some advice. Women don't necessarily use their networks as well as they should."
Women need to know what they want out of their career. "Women need to decide reasonably early on what kind of things are important to them from a career perspective and then pursue them," Davis says. "I don't think I can overestimate the value of tenacity. You have to be very good, you have to be very talented, but you also have to be pretty tenacious about what you want and be willing to go and get it. It requires a fair amount of investment from a personal point of view to understand what your life goals are. Once you know that, you need to go after them."
Until a woman knows what she wants from her career, no one else can really help her. "From a managerial point of view," Davis says, "my most frustrating experience is to be working with a staff member who says, 'I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.' There's very little I can do for that person from a managerial point of view and a career development point of view, other than to really encourage them to go out and answer that question for themselves."
FOR WOMEN who are moving into industry now, several women recommend looking closely at the different companies under consideration. When Martin was finishing graduate school, she asked companies questions about opportunities for women. "You can ferret out what are good places for women to work--places that have the beginnings of appropriate critical mass, view promotion opportunities very openly, and things like that," she says.
Women also need to be willing to "own" their careers, Martin says. "The company can help you make career moves, but you have to think about and explore what you want."
Continuing education can be helpful as well. "If your company encourages and offers you training, jump at it," Piocos says. "Not only is it an excellent opportunity to network, but the things that they teach you in this training are not the things that they taught you in grad school and college." Taking a course can help you decide if a new area, such as marketing, is really something that interests you, Martin says.
However, women should be wary of falling into the trap of feeling that they need to know everything about a particular position before they take the plunge. "Men learn on the job all the time. We can do the same thing," Carter says. "You don't have to be the expert about everything." As Wood-Black says, sometimes women just need to "jump off the cliff."
To advance, women must let their accomplishments be known. "You have to be your own best trumpeter and tell the world how really fabulous you are," Davis says.
Kocsis agrees. "Record and communicate your contributions and achievements. Let people know what you've done and how you've done it. Your contributions are the building blocks for your career, your credibility, and how people perceive you." Kocsis recommends that women speak up, figuratively and literally. "Let your voice be heard. We tend to be soft-spoken in meetings. I've noticed that our voices go down. Square your shoulders and be proud of what you've got to say," she says.
Chowdhry also urges women to establish a set of accomplishments and then tell people about them. "It's important to let people know what you have accomplished, or they won't hear about it. That track record is so important to establish credibility early in one's career. Once that credibility is established, one can go very far."
The most important thing is that the working environment must help women find satisfaction. "It's much more important to have women in the workforce who are happy and who are content with their careers and really feel like they're contributing and making a difference in their personal lives and in their professional lives than it is to have all the heads of the Fortune 500 companies be women," Davis says. "We don't want to force these people to do something they don't want to do. We also have to be sure that the systems are in place to enable them to do that if that is what they choose to do. There shouldn't be anything that looks like gender barriers in the workplace preventing them from accomplishing that."
Employers in all sectors must seek to create gender-balanced representative pools of employees. Organizations must create "fertile ground" where they proactively recruit women "with the intent of developing them as quickly if not more quickly than anybody else," Erwin says.
In terms of attitude, people--both men and women--need to understand the preconceptions that they bring into the workplace. "When one compares the situation in the chemical industry with other professions, investigations have shown that there may be certain factors that cause us to delay the advancement and recognition of women," Erwin tells C&EN.
Creating awareness is a major way to change attitudes. "There has to be a continual process of learning what those biases are, how they impact situations, and what's the best way to deal with them," she says. "Behaviors can be as blatant as sexism all the way to as subtle as the different ways that men and women are raised, which impacts the way they interact."
Accelerated learning increases the productivity and contributions of women. People need to constantly look ahead to see what is the next skill or technology they will need to learn, Erwin explains. "Never be satisfied with where you are on your learning curve; always be trying to accelerate it and to figure out how you can learn more so you can contribute more," she says.
"We have tried tactical things in each of those areas [access, attitude, and accelerated learning] over the years. The most effective approaches are going to start integrating all three of them," Erwin says. "If we can identify some key cohorts of young women, train them about accelerated learning and gender-based factors in the system, and make sure that they have access to opportunities, that's how we're going change the leadership profile of the chemical industry."
Thanks to Catalyst, a New York City-based organization devoted to the advancement of women in business and the professions, we have a good idea of how women fare in the working world.
Each year, Catalyst does a census in which it determines the status of women. For example, Catalyst counts the corporate officers, top earners, and board members of the Fortune 500 companies. In 2000, Catalyst found that women are 12.5% of the corporate officers, 4.1% of the top earners, and 11.7% of board members (but only 2.2% of internal directors).
In addition, Catalyst works with companies to help them develop plans to recruit, retain, and advance women. Catalyst advises companies on creating environments amenable to women. It also helps companies find women to serve on corporate boards.
Catalyst conducts research related to women's leadership development and work/family issues. In 1999, the organization published a pilot study on women scientists in industry. Copies of Catalyst's studies can be purchased on the organization's website, http://www.catalystwomen.org.
Chemical & Engineering News