Wanted: A Workplace Without a ‘Ceiling'

A friend forwarded the following to me, allegedly excerpted from an article written in 1943 for male supervisors of women in the workforce during World War II.

Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees:

Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination.

This reveals any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job.

Give the female employee a definite daylong schedule of duties so that she'll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes.

Women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but they lack initiative.

Young, married women usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters [and] they're less likely to be flirtatious.

Older women have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy.

Husky girls are more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied and apply fresh lipstick.

It's always fun to chuckle at the bad old days, but before we get carried away over our postwar victories, answer this: What do Emerson Electric, Winn-Dixie Stores, Deere, Time-Warner and Nabisco Group Holdings have in common?

They're all Fortune 500 companies with 15 or more male corporate officers and not a single female in such a role. Not one. And there are many more companies on that list.

Now, for the good news: What do Alcoa, Charles Schwab, PECO Energy, Johnson & Johnson and Goodyear Tire & Rubber have in common? They're all Fortune 500 companies with female CIOs. There are also many more on that list.

These tidbits come to us from Catalyst (www.catalyst women.org), a New York-based nonprofit research and advisory organization that works to advance women in business. Last spring, Catalyst quizzed the Fortune 500 about women's roles, and it recently released its "Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners." The study shows that we have come a long way since Rosie the Riveter, but we have a long way to go.

For example, of the 500 largest U.S. companies, only four are led by female CEOs. Of 2,249 top corporate officers, 114, or 5.1 percent, are women.

These days when it's more difficult than ever to attract and retain talented IT people, even the most dunderheaded leadership knows it can't afford to exclude half the population from the employment pool. Why, then, do they continue to exclude half the population from upper management?

The notion that "our time will come, but just not yet" doesn't wash anymore. My generation, which left school in the '70s, has been working alongside men for more than 20 years. We're old enough to be over our flirtatious period and still young enough to have not yet reached the cantankerous and fussy stage (though this kind of news tends to push us in that direction). The point is, we're as qualified as the men our age who have these jobs.

I'm not proposing a quota system for the corporate suite. There are plenty of good reasons why there might not happen to be a woman - or a man, for that matter - among corporate officers in companies that have only a handful of top executives, but common sense tells me you're not likely to toss a coin 15 times and get tails every time. Chance alone didn't dictate these corporate boys' clubs.

But women may get the last laugh. Christian & Timbers, a national IT search firm, recently reported that its 1999 placements of women in executive jobs were up 60 percent over 1998, largely as a result of placements in new e-companies, where recruitment depends more on talent and experience than outmoded stereotypes. It could be that women who hit the glass ceiling at traditional firms will end up leading the dot-com firms - and the economy - into the future.

Women in IT can push this improvement process along by voting with their feet.

If I were a talented woman in technology being courted by several companies, I'd peek into the corporate penthouse and see if anyone up there looked like me. You can bet that would weigh heavily in my decision-making.

So, like the writer of the 1943 article, I have some advice for corporations spending gazillions on recruiting and retaining IT workers while keeping women in their place: Better start walking the talk, boys, or the girls may just start walking.

Kathleen Melymuka is a Computerworld features writer. Contact her at kathleen_melymuka@computerworld.com.

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