Feminism and Sexism in Corporate America

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Introduction:

Take it all in all a man has a certain chance to get along in life.
A woman, on the other hand, has little or none. The world's work is open to her, but she cannot do it. She lacks the physical strength for laying bricks or digging coal. If put to work on a steel beam a hundred feet above the ground, she would fall off. For the pursuit of business her head is all wrong. Figures confuse her. She lacks sustained attention and in point of morals the average woman is, even for business, too crooked. —Stephen Leacock, October 1915

Women have faced several obstacles in their pursuit of equal rights. In the early 1900's they struggled to be heard and recognized. After a long hard fought battle, they won their right to vote on that historic day in August. Women are receiving recognition in all areas of society for the ways they touch others’ lives. Great women from Marie Curie to Sally Ride have affected the way society lives and dreams. They nominated a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, to be the running mate of Walter Mondale in the 1984 Presidential Election. Although women have made remarkable strides in opening the doors of opportunity, they still face prejudicial barriers in modern society.

Sexism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially: discrimination against women; behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.” (Merriam-Webster, 2004.)

Of all the accomplishments women have achieved, the one hurdle they constantly face is sexism in the work place. Mechanisms have been established that prohibit women from reaching the upper echelons of the Corporate Structure. Women are generally paid less wages then men for the same performance, even when all conditions are equal, including education, position and tenure. To be successful in Corporate America, having a supportive mentor will have a profound influence on an individual. Fewer individuals are willing to become mentors to women proteges, adding yet another challenge to climbing the corporate ladder.

Statistically speaking, women make up a majority of today’s workforce, with 63% of women entering the work place. (Dreher, Ash, 1990.) Although most women in society work, only three women are Corporate Executive Officers (CEO’s) in the 100 best companies for which to work. (Fortune, January 2001). Of all the line positions held by corporate officers, women hold only 6.2%, as opposed to 93.8% held by men (Catalyst, 2000). Three out of four women, 77%, are dissatisfied with the availability of mentors in their organizations (Catalyst, 2003).

An example of income discrimination is reflected in the banking industry. The average male Chief Financial Officer (CFO) earns $103,482, while the average female CFO earns $68,426. To prove the distinction between income discrepancies further, a male Director can expect to earn $99,024 while a female Director can expect $70,663 (Vaughan, 2004).

Studies have been conducted to try to determine the reasons why gender discrimination takes place within corporations. While not every corporation practices sexism, a majority display this form of discrimination. In 2000, Catalyst did a census reflecting that 12.5% of corporate officers in America’s largest 500 companies are women. The percentage of women officers has increased since 1995 but only 1,622 of the 12,945 officers are women. (Catalyst, 2000).

Why are women less likely to be hired for these high level positions? Personality, availability of mentors and perceived abilities present potential obstacles for women to reach their goals. Studies have been conducted to determine the validity of these factors.

Perceptions of gender influence the level of the hierarchy a woman may obtain. Women possess traits such as warmth, kindness, sensitivity, gentleness, understanding, awareness of others’ feelings and being helpful to others. From the time they were young children, they were...
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