Exploring the Gender Gap in Business

December 05, 2014

“You said in an interview not long ago that your kids said they’re going to hold you accountable for one job, and that is being a mom. Given the pressure at General Motors, can you do both well?”

That’s the question Today Show host Matt Lauer asked then-new General Motors CEO Mary Barra in June 2014. Put simply, his question was whether or not she would be able to balance being a mother while being a quality CEO. His implication is that there is a tradeoff — a woman can either be a good mother or a good CEO.

The stereotyping and unfair assumptions about a woman’s capability to have a work-life balance are a symptom of the gender gap in business. Stereotypes about women pervade through all of business — accounting, leadership, finance, and more — and there’s a discouraging achievement gap between men and women in the field. As an example, in 2012, female financial managers made just 70 percent of a male financial manager’s weekly earnings.

Statistics such as these are likely discouraging for young women pursuing careers in business fields. They may perform better in classes, graduate with the same degree, and apply for the same jobs as their male counterparts, yet they still may not achieve the same salary or leadership positions, simply because they are women.

How can we expect girls to desire jobs in business if the odds are stacked against them? And how can we tell young women that they must face this climate to pursue leadership roles in business so that, among other things, these stereotypes do not persist? Achieving this goal starts with helping girls become interested in business early on.

Tying business into public education, especially math classes, can help girls develop an interest and pursue future jobs in areas such as finance. Parents can also help the cause by encouraging their daughters to seek high-level leadership positions in business. Gendered toys, clothing, and media tell girls to stay in certain roles, but individually, everyone can do things to reject these stereotypes and encourage girls to follow career paths in this male-dominated arena.

The involvement of women and girls in business can only help the field. Female perspectives, skills, and ideas are valuable. Acquiescing to cynicism because of statistics won’t prevent stereotypes, but if young women join together in pursuing successful careers in business — and if we all support them in doing so — the myths about businesswomen can one day be erased.

This post was written by AAUW STEM Programs Intern Aly Sides.


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