When it comes to who’s who in the modern workplace, statistics show that men still rule the world.
Women earn less than men in nearly every occupation in the United States. Census data show that in 2012, women earned 76.5 cents for every dollar that men earned.
In Montana, women make 67 percent of what men earn for doing the same job.
Women make up less than 5 percent of the top positions in Fortune 500 companies, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that expands opportunities for women in business.
During her keynote address last week at the Montana Economic Summit in Butte, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg pointed out that after last year’s election, when women won 20 percent of congressional seats, pundits dubbed it a “takeover.”
“That’s not close to 50 percent, that’s not a takeover,” she said.
Montana Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Pam Bucy read Montana gender wage gap statistics during a panel discussion on strengthening women’s workforce development across the state.
Women are less likely to be in the workforce in Montana, Bucy said.
If they’re working in the legal field, for example, they make 44 percent of what their male counterparts earn.
If women work for the federal government, they make 83 percent of what men earn, the slimmest margin by industry in gender pay gap statistics.
“It should sound shocking to all of you,” Bucy said. “But what I encourage you to look at is what it means during a lifetime. It comes down to (a loss of) millions to some women at retirement when they need it most.”
“There are leadership problems in every industry and country,” Sandberg said during her address.
Sandberg’s presence at the summit, along with appearances by some of the world’s top women executives – like Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Meg Whitman and Oracle President Safra Catz – offered a unique opportunity for Montana women to discuss the issue of gender equality in the workplace, and offer solutions and support to change the statistics.
Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” spurred a renewed conversation during the past year about how to improve the outlook of women in the workplace and achieve gender equality.
“She’s ignited this whole new conversation. However people feel about it, it’s a national conversation now and I think that’s important,” said Elke Govertsen, publisher and chief executive officer of Mamalode magazine.
Mamalode was founded in Missoula by Govertsen and has been heralded in recent years as a top parenting magazine in the U.S.
“I have sons, it’s one of those things I really appreciate, (Sandberg’s message is) feminism as a way to work together,” Govertsen said.
Along with highlighting inequalities, Sandberg’s “Lean In” includes an examination of cultural factors she says affect women’s ability to achieve in the workplace.
“All over the world success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women,” Sandberg said during her keynote address. “When men get more success they get elected to the Senate, chair the Finance Committee, they are considered more powerful and better liked. ... when women get more success and become more powerful they are less liked. All over the world, that is the issue.”
Women often count themselves out before they have to, Sandberg said, allowing future decisions about work and thoughts of motherhood hold them back from taking opportunities.
“Years before you have a child is a good time to lean in because it creates options,” Sandberg said.
The way girls and boys are treated at a young age needs to change, Sandberg said.
Assertiveness is expected from boys. But, Sandberg said, assertive little girls are often called bossy.
Christina Henderson, a mother with a full-time marketing job who’s studying for her MBA at the University of Montana’s School of Business Administration volunteered at the summit. She brought her kindergarten report card to show Sandberg.
The final sentence of the report noted that Henderson was “rather bossy at times.”
“Every language in the world has a word for bossy,” Sandberg said during her address.
Next time you think about calling a little girl bossy, instead say she has executive leadership skills, Sandberg said.
At the summit, several panels were set up to allow women to ask other women what they can do be successful in the world of business.
“I think the opportunity for women comes with thinking about growth plans. How you can grow your business? What is it going to take? What do you need? Who do you need in your kitchen cabinet to help you succeed? A banker, finance team, another partner?” asked Amanda Schultz, director of the Montana Women’s Business Center.
Schultz was one of four Montana women entrepreneurs on the “Growing Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs Across Montana” panel at the summit.
Diane Smith, founder and chief executive officer of American Rural, told women at the panel that ideas are a dime a dozen. What does every good entrepreneur need?
Customers, Smith said, before she told the story of driving thousands of miles across Montana showcasing a potential product to potential customers. The trip led to the formulation of a strong business plan – that led to the start of a successful business that was eventually sold to a larger company.
“I’m a big believer that if you’re going to get up in the morning and work, think big,” Smith said.
Cari Yturri, president of Bennett Motors based in Great Falls, rarely encounters other women leaders in the auto industry.
One problem is that women are too compliant, Yturri said.
“That’s our problem,” she said. “If we could be just a little bolder, keep your hand up ... just do that. We don’t want to bring attention to ourselves. It’s OK, we do need to be a lot more comfortable with that.”
Conversations about gender equality are hard to have, Sandberg said. At one point she was told that speaking out on the topic could end her career.
But the problem had gone on too long, Sandberg said.
What’s the benefit of having more women at the table?
More voices mean more solutions. Equality means better economic growth.
“If you’re a man who can attract more from a larger pool, you’re going to be more successful,” Sandberg said.
Montana businesswomen face a particular challenge because of the rural nature of the state, said Jen Euell, director of the Women’s Foundation of Montana.
Women tend to be less connected because of geographical and transportation limitations.
“For women, it can be even harder perhaps because women are really even more in need of relationships, connections and mentoring, in order to grow business and be successful in life,” Euell said.
To help Montana women have better access to resources and potential mentors, Euell announced the launch of Startup Women Montana during the summit.
“The intention is that we would provide a place where Montana women who are businesswomen or entrepreneurs or interesting in becoming one of those things could connect with other women with advanced skills in those areas,” Euell said.
Startup Women Montana will soon have an online presence at wfmontana.org. The plan is to hold more events and meetings in the future, Euell said.
Euell thinks the increased opportunities being created to connect businesswomen and the willingness of summit organizers to make women in workplace a featured topic signifies progress.
“I feel like the time has come for women to move into a place of leadership,” Euell said. “We’ve been in the workforce for years. The next goal is to move women into leadership.”
On the ground level, women like Mamalode’s Govertsen and MBA student Henderson were inspired by the summit and Sandberg’s “lean in” message to make adjustments in their lives to help change the culture and statistics.
“I’ve been told by men ‘you fight too hard for your ideas,’ ” Henderson said. “I’m committed to removing ‘bossy’ from the cultural lingo.”
Govertsen was particularly inspired by Sandberg’s notion that the biggest business decision you’ll make is choosing a partner. Marriages, children and work life will be more successful if domestic duties are shared equally, Sandberg said.
“I do have that,” Govertsen said of her husband, who cooks and cleans among other things. “I think I need to up-play it. Acknowledge it, up-play it and attribute some of my success to him.”
It’s also about not accepting the status quo, she said.
“It inspires me personally,” she said, “to look at my own rationale for the opportunities I’m not taking and to challenge myself.”