Women Working It
It’s tough to know exactly where we are at with women in business. Sure, more women are in the workforce now than thirty years ago, the number of female breadwinners is steadily on the rise and the pay gap is better than it was in the ’90s. But that gap hasn’t budged over the past decade, women are still much more likely to choose lower-paying college majors and jobs and they are underrepresented in top leadership positions. However, a straight look at just the facts can draw an incomplete picture. Economists warn of overlooking nuances, like some workers’ preferences for fulfilling work over big paychecks, or the reality that many women still choose flexible jobs or not working at all to raise a family or care for an aging parent. And there is some good news that often flies under the radar in the discussion of gender equality. Younger female workers earn more on the man’s dollar than older women, which could be a sign that the pay gap isn’t as stagnant as it looks. Also, a recent study from Catalyst shows that firms with more women on their board of directors perform better financially than those with lower female representation. Gender-inclusive road signs signaling construction zones can’t be far off, right?
DATA: Current Population Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
DATA: U.S. Census Bureau
Madison’s rank as one of the best metros for women in the workforce, based on characteristics that support working women, including a growing economy, a small gender pay gap and robust salaries
DATA: Nerdwallet.com, 2013
Lindsay, Stone & Briggs founder and CEO Marsha Lindsay explains how she got to where she is today and how being a woman in biz matters (or doesn’t)
How did you get started?
While an undergraduate I worked in a radio station doing copywriting and later a TV station writing and producing ads. Then while a grad student I freelanced for ad agencies and along the way picked up some clients of my own, which led to formally incorporating as a business.
What is a challenge you overcame to get to where you are today?
It’s hard to cite only one … But a consistent challenge for me over the years has been self-doubt: Do I know enough? Am I good enough? In what way can I do this better?
Ever encounter people who thought being a woman meant you couldn’t be in a leadership role?
Perhaps I have. But it was something I never overheard or was told. In fact, over the years I have been honored with many leadership offers and opportunities in business and the advertising industry nationally, in Wisconsin and in the Madison community.
What could make Madison a better place for women to succeed in business?
The answer for women is the same as it would be for men: the ability to focus on maximizing their job performance because they aren’t worried about their families’ well-being. Things that help with this range from flex time, job sharing, on-site day care and the many wonderful community support (and after-school) programs Madison already has. That said, if someone could just find a means to have a healthy, nutritious home-cooked dinner all ready and on the table for everyone when they get home at night …
What advice do you have for women who are trying to pursue their careers?
Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect the worst of people and opportunities, you’ll see the worst, even when it isn’t there. If you expect the best of people and opportunities, you will actually make great things happen for yourself.
In the ongoing discussion about workplace equality, one new powerful area of study is on the relationship between the diversity of a board of directors and that company’s performance. Maria Triana, assistant professor at the Wisconsin School of Business, has published multiple studies on the topic. “Diversity is often referred to as a double-edged sword,” she says. It’s contextually driven, so a diverse board could help or hinder a firm’s performance, depending on the situation. “There’s evidence that the more diverse a board—or any team—is, the more potential the team has to be creative and to perform well if the team is well managed,” she says. But if the company is in a tough spot financially, it’s a different story. “When there is a stressor facing that group, the general tendency is to have a rigidity effect,” Triana says. “They’re less open to new ideas and information … they want to make quick decisions based on well-known ways of doing things.”