I've been in the dumps lately, and I have my reasons. First, I recently returned from a business trip to Houston, where I grew up. Since I hadn't set foot there for at least 15 years, it was a bit unsettling. To add to the trauma, I lost my smartphone in my mad dash to the George Bush Airport to catch my flight back to New York. So now a part of me (my iPhone was like family) will always stay in Houston. A discomfiting thought.
It also doesn't cheer me up that a spate of bad news about women awaited me. As if we needed more evidence, there's more research confirming that women's careers are stuck in a rut. According to new findings by McKinsey & Co., women aren't reaching the top of the corporate ladder, and lose whatever drive they had at the beginning of their careers by the time they reach middle management. (Hat tip: The Wall Street Journal.)
What holds women back, says the McKinsey report, are powerful "entrenched beliefs":
While companies have worked hard to eliminate overt discrimination, women still face the pernicious force of mind-sets that limit opportunity. Managers—male and female—continue to take viable female candidates out of the running, often on the assumption that the woman can’t handle certain jobs and also discharge family obligations. . . .
These imbedded mind-sets are often institutional as well as individual—and difficult to eradicate. A CEO’s personal crusade to change behavior does not scale. A diversity program by itself, no matter how comprehensive, is no match for entrenched beliefs.
But what really got my attention--and made me despondent--is that women hold some of these prejudices about themselves. The report says: "We found that many women, too, hold limiting beliefs that stand in their own way—such as waiting to fill in more skills or just waiting to be asked."
Like their counterparts in business, women lawyers are stuck in the never-never land of senior associate or nonequity partnership positions. And like their sisters in low to mid-management, they are not getting much training or mentoring to get out of the rut.
The McKinsey report proposes an "organizational transformation" to address the systemic challenges. More sobering, though, is that McKinsey says that "our research on organizational change indicates that 70 percent of transformation efforts fail."
Of course, the report attempts to be positive, calling for "strong leadership from the top and a comprehensive plan to shift mind-sets and behaviors." Moreover, it notes that "changing only the mind-sets of the executive committee and other senior leaders misses the most important influencers of sustained change--employees’ direct supervisors."
What's worked are "more flexible work routines, implementing career off-ramps and on-ramps, and policies that enable women to survive the dual responsibilities of family and work." But McKinsey cautions, "the next leg of this long journey requires something much harder to achieve—genuine transformation."
I think the report is spot-on. And I'd like to say that it left me hopeful, but I'm afraid it had the opposite effect. Reading it made me feel like I was still stuck in Texas.
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