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Organizational Theory

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Sexism in Organizations
Joyce N. Vitalo
Organizational Theory

Dr. Lee Mahon

December 17, 2011

Abstract

In today’s workplace there is an emphasis on equality through trainings and programs that are intended to avoid sexism. The historical influence on the business world has shown for the last one hundred years a division of organizational leaders by gender. These divisions have been a part of organizational structure and slow to change.

Historical Perspective of Sexism

Women in the United States have been on a slow journey towards equality that has had many twists and turns over the last one hundred years. There have been many women who have helped to pull other women to the same level as men. The women of today are still pushing towards the same level of respect, responsibility and reward that men receive and have been receiving. Chapter one of History of Woman Suffrage Vol. I, opens with “As civilization advances there is a continual change in the standard of human rights. In barbarous ages the right of the strongest was the only one recognized; but as mankind progressed in the arts and sciences intellect began to triumph over brute force. Change is a law of life, and the development of society a natural growth…. In all periods of human development, thinking has been punished as a crime, which is reason sufficient to account for the general passive resignation of the masses to their conditions and environments.” (Cady Stanton, Anthony, Gage and Matilda. 1881, p. 20)
Women have been working towards equality since the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. The Suffrage movement was first started with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the late 1800’s when the first state suffrage law was passed and continued through the passing of the 19th Amendment. The movement was not well received by the male dominated government and establishment. The right to vote was a privilege that some men at the time believed women were incapable of handling, due to poor a understanding of current events and politics. This perception and behavior was common at the time and some of this thinking still permeates the psyche of men today. Few men today would say women should not vote but there still is a false belief of superiority that carries into daily life at home as well as at work.
The suffrage movement was opposed but women pushed onward to make a change. It was not always well received; Susan B. Anthony and a few other supporters were arrested for attempting to vote in a Presidential election. When at trial she asked to be found guilty. The fact that someone would be arrested for voting shows the disdain that suffrage was met. The possibility of facing jail time, and the poor reception of others took great courage. Each of these women was a change agent of modern day feminism. They faced terrible treatment and verbal attacks as well as, being beat, shot at and arrested. A change of rights such as giving the right to vote is also a mental shift to the men in society who are opposed to it. This is a fear-based reaction and has lingered in the consciousness of America to this day.
Power is regularly linked to masculine terms and behaviors from a young age (Shapiro, Ingols, Blake-Beard. 2011). It is also linked to control, whether that be physical, mental or emotional, and it is a strong force. As one grows and reflects on where power is obviously present we see it in many roles from business to politics. During the Suffrage movement men held power over women through laws of the time, as well as the social and economic structure. The change in the voter populous and the consequences that could ensue in the world and the home were powerful fear driven factors.
The belief that men and women are not equal has continuously been woven into the society and in some areas the culture. Susan B. Anthony’s writing supports the belief that women were perceived to have value but the definition that society had labeled them was different then what they believed to be true (Cady Stanton, Anthony, Gage and Matilda, 1881). Women were seeking to be able to have a voice that the Constitution spoke, and voting would also give them the ability to bring changes to issues that effect not only them personally but the world around them. Society did not value women in that manner, they were mostly taught to look pretty and become mothers and keep a house well, assuring that the man of the household was taken care of and happy. History of Woman Suffrage Vol. IV proclaimed in 1902 “Women who have "all the rights they want," and men who insist that "the laws are framed for the best interests of women," are recommended to make a study of those presented herewith." (Cady Stanton, Anthony, Gage and Matilda, 1902. p. 481) The sentiment is over a hundred years old and yet we have not made the progress equal to the great strides made in the previous hundred-year period.
Once Suffrage passed the women’s right continued to move forward but at a slower pace. The Department of Labor created the Women’s Bureau to gather data about the workforce as well as to help safeguard this specific area. President Roosevelt appointed Francis Perkins, the first woman to a cabinet position as Secretary of Labor in 1933.
The Suffrage movement was the true start of the Civil Rights movement to bring equality to all with no regard to gender or color. Both of these movements required bravery and a real testament to beliefs, as the consequences were often not pleasant. The Civil Rights movement started before the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. The National Association of Colored Women was founded in 1896 and it brought other black women’s clubs together as one organization. The founding of the National Council of Negro Women fought against sexism, job discrimination and racism.
Similar to the plight of women, a majority of American society did not believe that all people were equal and color was often used as a judging factor. The 1950’s in America are usually portrayed with a married white couple and two children a boy and a girl. This “Father Knows Best” personification leaves out a large portion of the populous. At that time in America segregation was a part of life and had been since the abolition of slavery. This was only a small segment of the population and it was idealized in television as well as in society.
The civil rights movement was met with hostility and anger from some people. This created a lot of danger for those working to take the movement forward. Rosa Parks is seen as a symbol for the movement when she refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white rider. As laws continued to fall against segregation, more and more events took place to keep the movement going forward. There are many additional events that took place including the Freedom Riders. When interstate transportation segregation was banned groups of people rode buses to ensure that this law would be abided. In many cases violence ensued and the riders were physically beaten. The violence did not dissuade the movement it may have only slowed it down allowing it to gain momentum become even stronger.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed to end discrimination of voting, education and public areas. This act works in conjunction with the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to end discrimination through investigating claims and working to remedy the issues. These were two very important steps toward equality. However, the mindset of racism was already planted into the mindset of some individuals and very difficult to eradicate.
In the late sixties the National Organization of Women was created to be able to lobby political issues on behalf of women. The language used in the Equal Rights Amendment came from 1923 verbiage and stated “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification in 1972 but was not ratified by the required number of states. The amendment died in 1982 and has not been taken up again in such a fashion. The fight has continued in other ways such as domestic violence laws to protect women from violence within marriage.
I recall the ERA movement, as I was a pre-teenage girl in the Midwest. The topic was very deep rooted in everyone and the opinions that were held in homes came to school. A girl in my grade wore an ERA button and told the class that she marched in downtown Chicago with her mother and the boys really gave her a hard time. I do not believe at the time I really understood it. I came home and told my mother about it and she told me to tell the girl I was proud of her and she should be too. I did not do what my mother told me because it would have made me a target of the boy’s ugly comments. Eagly, Diekman, Johannesen-Schmidt, & Koenig’s social role theory supports that the general beliefs that men and women are compartmentalized in how they are viewed differently by each sex and it is linked to the perception of the tasks or work each does (2004).
The movement was not embraced by all women it had female detractors such as Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly is a well-educated, politically conservative Constitutional lawyer who lobbied against the Equal Rights Amendment. The belief that the amendment would destroy the family seems counter intuitive as she lobbied for full time mothers and wives while she was a full time lawyer herself. She was the original argument for “family values” that became much more popular by comments of Dan Quayle in 1992. She argued that women would be drafted and that all restrooms would become unisex if the Amendment passed. It did not pass so we will never know if her constitutional law views would have come true.
The honest facts that divorce rates have gone up cannot be disputed. The “traditional” family that was seen on television, as how family should look is not the norm and probably never was a true picture of reality. Would it be better for children to be raised in homes that are unhappy and together or separate and have peace? I can only say for myself that I would prefer the peace and I would have wished that for my parents as well.
Women have struggled with being in control of themselves and their bodies for the last one hundred years. Margaret Stanger was a pioneer in the early 1900’s by opening birth control clinics and founding the American Birth Control League. Her clinics were closed ten days after opening and she had to go to court for the right to continue operation. Her efforts later blossomed into Planned Parenthood, which is still in operation today dispensing contraception and providing counseling and medical care to women. The basic right for a woman to choose when or if to have a child has long been a point of contention politically.
The case of Roe v Wade was and still is today a very controversial case and discussion point. The ruling made abortion legal and gave women the right to decide what to do with their bodies and ensure safe and legal abortions. Prior to the court decision many states had passed anti-abortion laws and as a result some women died during illegal back room abortions (Faux. 1988).
One aspect to look at in regards to the anti-abortion laws in some states is that at the time most of the legislatures were male. Men who did not have any experience having babies nor the ability to be pregnant were making these laws that applied only to women. The fact that men could impose such regulations on women at such a personal level gives a very clear picture of how women were still being viewed in the late 1960’s. This supports the systemic problem with the view that men are superior and need to direct and determine what women need and should do to their bodies. Somewhere in history the tide changed and women lost the rights and privileges that they

once held. Cady Stanton brings this point home in Volume I “Woman had acquired

great liberty under the old civilizations. In Rome she had not only secured remarkable personal

and property rights, but she officiated as priestess in the most holy offices of religion.” (Cady Stanton, Anthony, Gage and Matilda. 1901.) There needs to be a balance, I am not advocating making females more important what I am suggesting is that we need balance and that we are equal and should be perceived and treated in such a manner.
Historical Look at Gender in the Workplace
Traditionally women had worked at maintaining a household, whether that was in a city or out on the range. Women had the babies, raised the babies, kept the household in order, did the cooking and ensured that all the necessities were handled. Men were the traditional breadwinners and worked outside the home. There were instances where women did need to go out into the workplace and in most cases they were not educated and had limited choices. Schneider & Schneider point out that women learned networking skills early, as they were home alone while the husband was working (1993). These skills started in friendships and at church groups and eventually helped blossom into creating organizations as well as forming Unions when the work shifted outside the home.
Women outside the home in the early 1900’s were employed in a large part in the garment industry, as well as hired household help. Jane Adams’ work with the poor and the creation of Hull House helping the poor started Social Work as a profession. Women did become part of Unions and organized their own appropriate unions (Wallace, 1982).
Even as early as the late 1800’s the push for women to earn equal wages was being started. The National Women’s Trade Union League was created in order to improve working conditions for women and children. Women and children did not have a voice this was still prior to Suffrage and women were trying to find a voice. They were not seen by the male dominated society as having value and were to a certain level expendable and easily replaced. In addition the males who were employed had fears of losing employment to women being paid less, and some were distraught that their picture of the “perfect family” was already being disrupted (Schneider & Schneider, 1993). This is a theme that runs throughout the feminist movement and has continued to this day in debates against abortion and other issues pertaining to women.
There were educated women who worked in white-collar positions and earned more than working class women. This was still met by societal forces with a negative attitude, in some cases told they should not over exert their brain, as it was bad for their development. This also supports that there have always been detractors to women excelling and entering fields that were once perceived as male appropriate. Dr. Edith Lowry, a physician was a proponent for women not exerting their brain; this from a female physician seems totally preposterous (Schneider &Schneider 1993)
The first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives was Jeannette Rankin in 1916 and since Suffrage was passed in 1914 in Montana it allowed her to vote for herself. Today’s congress is made up of 72 women in the House of Representatives (16.6%) and 17 in the United States Senate (17%). (United States Office of the Clerk. 2011) It is interesting that the percentages are so close to each other in both houses. The progress made in the last ninety-five years that is not very much if you just looked at the numbers but when you look at it over all with where women were when Representative Rankin was in office not a lot has changed. In my professional experience I have found that this is similar to large organizations and the breakdown of male and female leadership, it is not balanced.
During World War I and II women in the United States had the opportunity to expand into other trades and professions. The need for a solid workforce became an avenue that women could learn a trade that would support their families. In the 1940’s during World War II around seven million women joined the workforce. During this time “Rosie the Riveter” was a prominent symbol of the other million plus women working in the industrial area. The women of this era worked and supported families at home and became the heads of household. This was new and prior to this time the men held these responsibilities unless they were widowed or divorced.
The men who would have occupied these positions were overseas fighting in the war. It was the return of the troops that would push these same women out of those areas of the workforce. The same fears that women would take all of the employment crept back into the consciousness in parts of the male workforce. There was also a notion that women did not belong which was self-serving, as it was okay for them to hold such positions when they were away at war but not when they were back home. Women were not going to give up this freedom and these responsibilities easily to the dismay of some males. These fears continue to be a theme that is embedded in the mindset of some men and is still present in today’s workplace.
In 1961 the President’s Commission on the Status of Women reported widespread discrimination findings throughout the report. Even at this time there were states prohibiting female participation in jury duty, prohibitions on owning property or as well as not having legal control over their own finances. These findings helped to push and pass the Equal Pay Act of 1963. There maybe a Federal Statute requiring equal pay but there is still a disparity between male and female wages for the same position. It has been my experience that peripheral notions are the stated cause, when I have known full well my experience and my education exceeded the comparable male employee. Such claims are hard to prove and in most cases the woman raising the issue will be labeled a troublemaker and weeded out of the organization.
Women are now more educated than ever before and their numbers in colleges exceed that of the male populous in many schools. Women are just now catching up to some of the opportunities and education. This however will not make up for all the time that males created organizations based on their beliefs as well as the networking and the structures that were created before women became more prominent in the workforce.
The differences in leadership style between males and females can limit the ability of women to excel and rise within organizations. Ayman and Kormack have looked at gender and culture as factors in differences in leadership and the results show that there are significant differences between the sexes (2010). The manner in which people are lead will determine success or failure as well as job satisfaction.
The organizations and the organizational structures that were created in the last fifty years were without the input or perspective of female leadership. Leadership from a man is different than that of a woman. This is due to experiences as well as education and social background. I have found that in most organizations women are not valued for the different perspectives that they bring to the table. The normal reaction is that they are singled out for their differences and made to feel inferior or out of place. The strides that women have made across the board have been great, but there is still a large divide that needs to be bridged to make women equal and have a real place at the decision table. Johnson and Weber’s look at gender and its role have rightfully determined that the issue is not so much that the sexes are different finding a way “honoring of differences through a genderful pedagogy” (p.154).
Government Role and Influence
Over the last one hundred years more government regulations, departments and committees have be created to promote women’s rights. The reason to create such structure was to ensure that women were being treated and protected in the same manner as men. In 1961 the Presidents Commission on the Status of Women was established by President Kennedy to assess the following areas Education, Federal Employment Policies and Practices, Home and Community, Political and Civil Rights, Private Employment, Protective Labor Legislation, and Social Insurance and Taxes.
At the end of the commission the Equal Pay act was initiated. The intention was equal pay for men and women within the same company. This is a basic math concept, however in business you never discuss salary with other employees. How would you as a female worker know that your male counterpart sitting at the desk across from you doing a similar job is making more money than you? You could be fired for cause at the companies I have worked if caught discussing salary. It seems to have good intentions, but is still missing the mark. In my own experience the issue of two employees doing similar work and different pay has been avoided by different titles with similar yet different job responsibilities.
The most recent case that comes to mind is the Wal-Mart Class action suit that was recently dismissed. The Supreme Court ruled that the inclusion of 1.6 Million women was to encompassing and it would be grouping too many issues together. The claim was sex discrimination and in organizations management’s outlook and treatment is a corporate climate. In a case like Wal-Mart it could have been a systemic problem in how managers treated females and possibly lack of promotion. This case will not be going forward in the size it was and will be pared down to the original plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs response to the ruling was “The courts ruling erects substantially higher barriers for working women and men to vindicate rights to be free from employment discrimination” (Clifford. 2011.)
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a relatively young department created in 1964 and is responsible for enforcing Title VII as well as the Equal Pay Act. Title VII initially did not have “sex” in its verbiage, but adding it officially linked sex and race discrimination. This link is not hard to do even if it was not in Title VII as they both have the tendency to discriminate based on these characteristics and seem to be imbedded into people. The cultural mindset and views of such discrimination start at a young age and carry forward into adult life.
It is hard to imagine that Sandra Day O’Connor took office in 1981 as the first Female Justice of the Supreme Court. Only a decade before President Nixon was asked about installing a female Justice and his response was “I don’t think a woman should be in any government job what-so ever… mainly because they are erratic. And emotional. Men are erratic and emotional, too, but the point is a woman is more likely to be.” (Eagly & Carli. p. 64) Comments like that really give an idea of how some male leaders felt then as well as today. It is embedded into people’s beliefs and easily manipulated for their own support. If the leader of the free world felt this way, how many more of his subordinate leaders felt the same? A belief that strong from that high up in an organization is going to trickle down and other leaders will follow. The issue here has a lasting impact and effects.
Today’s Supreme Court has a much different face even from 1981 with two white female Justices, one female Hispanic Justice, five white male Justices and one African American Justice. Times are changing and the face of the court has changed, issuing decisions that uphold the law as well and more importantly their life experience as part of the process. The change in the composition of the Justices will have an impact on rulings s as we all bring life experience in any decision we make, so too will the Justices on the Supreme Court. It will just take time to take root and show the impact.
As with any role in leadership the composition of its members as well as their education and experiences will cultivate the organizations climate. It is this small group of people who steer the environment of an organization and in the previous case the way our government upholds laws.
Organizational Theory Today
Today’s business world is typically fast paced, high pressure and male lead. It is logical that an organization created and run by men has a culture that would exude the leaders vision and style. Men started most long-standing organizations, and the culture was formed at inception from the founders. Organizational culture rewards behaviors that are aligned with leadership.
Organizational theory has evolved over the years and initially the research was primarily on male populous as they were performing the tasks researched. Mintzberg’s (1973) research was on male subjects and the results were generalized. Men and women are raised differently and they have different interpersonal skills. These differences might yield different results in similar studies.
Organizational theory spans the whole organization to have a full understanding of how it functions. Over the years the research has looked into many different aspects to gain a fuller understanding of how organizations develop, operate and change. Bullet points and catch phrases are not enough to gain insight into such a complex organization (Renihan, 1985)
Women working toward leadership roles and senior management have a difficult path if their values and approach are not similar to current leadership. Men and women have different management styles, females tend to be more servant or transformational, whereas men are transactional leaders. The management style can be a strong influence within an organization that can either allow one to excel or hold one back in career progression. In my own personal experience at a large organization I found that being a different type of leader than the type in leadership was detrimental to my progression. My personal management style is more Servant Leader and Transformational, as I believe it really has an impact on individuals. The corporation I worked at previously was a large cable provider that has been managed and lead by men since its creation. Systems theory states that a system will work to find its natural balance and will move it back to that state if it is out of balance. In my experience at the Cable Company, I found that my leadership was counter-culture. I met all my goals and exceeded production expectations, which included my staff excelling as well. I found more issues with my management about my approach and techniques that had nothing to do with my results. My approaches were never against policy or the law but I found I was met with resistance consistently. This push back is a perfect example of the system fighting to find its equilibrium.
Bajdo and Dickson’s research into organizational culture and women showed that culture in an organization impacts the success rate of women (2002). The success of women does not relate to their percentage in the organization or in “management” roles. At the core of women having an impact is the dominant culture and its creators. If the organization has only a small percentage of women in senior leadership roles, the impact is limited. Just as a system will pull back to its true state, a change cannot be significant if there is not a balanced representation of views and perspectives pushing forth change.
An organization’s culture and the values that it proclaims are not always as easy to decipher as reading a mission and values statement. While organizations promote training and a tag line, determining the culture may take some research. Observations are the easiest way to learn about culture, as well as looking at the composition of the organization in all areas, including senior management, middle management and the workforce. Just looking at basic demographics will give a partial picture of an organization.
Further investigation to determine the culture may be achieved by researching other areas such as business practices as well as annual reports if available. The organizational culture is very large and composed of many parts. Not all aspects are visible looking from the outside. My experiences have shown that it is very important to assess and understand a culture as much as possible before accepting a position.
When there is not an organizational cultural fit the likelihood for being unsuccessful is greatly increased. The corporate character determines the culture and what types of behaviors and leaderships styles are accepted. Power oriented and achievement oriented organizations are very common in today’s businesses driven by senior leadership’s management style. These characteristics are very common of the “typical” male transactional leadership.
D. Q. Mills (2000) has written about a new corporation where people are solution oriented and work together. This type of organization would need to be started in this manner to be effective and successful. Another type of organization that might be an excellent candidate for this organizational structure is a customer service focused and smaller. The ability to spread the message, lead, and work in that manner would be more receptive in a new or small organization. An established larger organization has the barriers of many levels to push the message and reach the field.
The organization’s culture is as much the organization’s identity as its name. The behaviors and styles of the culture will continue to promote leaders of the same style and hinder leaders with opposite styles. Kessler (2001) states although a specific outcome is the goal it might not be enough to make a change which is similar to my experience.
Workplace Organizational Structure and Progress
Senior Leadership in today’s business is still the final frontier for women to break into the mainstream and be the norm not the anomaly. The glass ceiling has been referred to for many years and is understood when referenced. The concept is easy enough to follow but it implies that every woman in the room has the ability to excel and hit that ceiling. The structures in place do not allow every woman to excel and reach mid to senior level leadership. They are weeded out along the way and there become fewer females as you go up in the hierarchy in most companies. Eagly and Carli bring in the concept of a labyrinth to describe the movement towards the top floor corner office (2007). The labyrinth is flat and you cannot see what is ahead of you and it is only visible from above, which is typically where the male executives sit.
My interpretation is that the path of a female executive is visible for the males on the path but the females have even more struggles and challenges placed before them. Even finding your path in the labyrinth does not guarantee that you will ascend to the ranks of senior leadership. One of the determining factors is the organization itself and its response to female leaders.
The majority of leaders in the Fortune 500 as well as the Global Fortune 500 are male. The women that have made it are very rare considering there were only 10 in 2007. It is a telling sign when the Wall Street Journal headline flash is news worthy because a woman is leading Kraft Foods or that Yahoo let its female leader go via an email. When men are promoted or demoted it is not news worthy unless there is some big underlying story. If a woman is added as a leader to the Fortune 500 it is news. It is a sad reflection that this is not a normal occurrence, when in today’s world it should be just another promotion. Women have made so much progress yet are still fighting for each challenge that have proved worthy and ready.
Even with the Equal Pay Act women’s salary’s still lag behind men with equal experience and education. The average woman’s salary is $.20 per dollar less than a man’s. Although the gap is closing it is still very disheartening that women work just as hard as men and have a lesser-perceived value. In my own experience I have found it hard to catch up to men in my field in the area of salary. I have more education and experience and it did not have an impact in my last position. This proves that you have to leave an organization and negotiate well on your entrance hoping you are in the same ballpark as your male counterparts.
Within organizations there is a mindset that follows that of its leader. If the leadership approaches an issue in a certain way or with a bias so will the managers below. If the leadership is toxic or has a negative view on a group such as women it will be a systemic issue for all women hoping to progress within the organization. The culture permeates on every level of an organization. Success for women in organizations who do not value female perspective or leadership styles is not an easy task and in some cases not possible.
Senge’s System theory has shown that a system will find its natural balance and will work towards it on its own (1991). Any system will follow this process even if it is unjust as it is the natural balance for the organization and its structure. Such an example is an organization that does not support female leaders, the system will not allow for the easy flow of female leaders to successfully ascend the hierarchy.
An organizational change requires momentum and it requires planning. Two aspects that need to be incorporated to make an organizational change successful are leadership and the employees embracing the leaders changes (Wang and Rode 2010). The employees are the larger group and bringing them into the change increases the likelihood of success.

Today there is still a gender barrier that is hard to penetrate. The solution is not one that can yield full results overnight. Education is the foundation of change, starting with the young children in conjunction with the support of the adults around them. The hardest barrier to break will be the prejudices that are ingrained in adults changing their beliefs and behaviors. The cycle will continue to go on unless there is a break in the cycle. The structure is so strong and so large it will require a great deal of emphasis and it will take years.
My personal experience with prejudice growing up is that interaction with the groups that have been stereotyped taught me what those people were really like, and turned out to be just like me. I have heard the phrase “when you know better you do better” and this is a very good example. The knowledge needs to be disbursed so people can learn and open up to reality and make a change.
Conclusions
Today’s organizations are still carrying forward the foundations from their inception. The culture has been created and has grown to be in alignment with the values and behaviors that senior management has promoted. When the organization encounters an opposing or non-conforming behavior, attitude or influence it will work to move it out.
Women in today’s business environment have a place in senior leadership, but it is still lacking to that of their male counterparts. Where there is a balance of male and female leadership it is easier to bring different approaches into the culture. The original culture will still be prevalent, but when there are more female leaders there is more influence to make changes.
Organizations will change over time when senior leadership is pushing the change. The change must be reinforced and adopted at every level to be successful over time. Strides can be made and be measureable, but there has to be a force to make it take hold. An organization will continue to identify with the leadership and the messages they send. Making changes takes time and it must be at every level of the organization to be successful. Women are making strides every day in business; more and more CEO’s and CFO’s of Fortune 500 companies are women. The pace is slow, understanding the importance of a place at the senior management table is helping to level the gender imbalance. References
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