Workplace Culture

There’s Still a Gender Gap. How It Varies Depends on Who You Ask

By Jenna Fisher

Aug. 29, 2017

Although we’ve made significant progress toward gender equality in the past few decades, we still have a huge distance to travel to reach true gender parity.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we’ve come closer to equal pay, but haven’t reached it yet — from 62 cents on the dollar in 1979 to roughly 81 cents in 2011. The disparity is even greater at the leadership level: Only 24 percent of U.S. CEOs are women. In my area of expertise, CFOs, the numbers are even more discouraging: Fewer than 13 percent of Fortune 500 CFOs are women.

Clearly, more progress is needed. And who better to describe the road ahead than today’s trailblazers: female executives.

My organization, executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, recently surveyed more than 300 senior leaders across all industries, nearly half of whom are in the C-suite. Some 88 percent of survey respondents were parents, who revealed what they hope the future workplace will look like when their children and grandchildren one day launch careers.

The survey uncovered surprising differences between genders on everything from the look and feel of the future workplace to executives’ current motivations for putting in long hours in the corner office. Clearly, the gender gap many of us confront at work has influenced how each gender sees his or her career and what we want for the workplace of the future.

A New World — and Skills to Match

Much has been written about how technology will remake the future of work, and the executives we surveyed tended to agree. When asked which forces will most significantly impact how people work in the future, 28 percent of respondents said technological advancements and innovations; followed by artificial intelligence and robotics (18 percent); and new, disruptive business models (16 percent).

When it came to the skills future leaders will need to thrive in this new landscape, however, the answers diverged sharply by gender. Female executives were more likely to rank technical skills, like analyzing quantitative data, being proficient with the latest technology and developing technical knowledge, as most important for future success. In fact, more than one-quarter (28 percent) of female leaders ranked these skills first versus just 17 percent of male respondents. More male executives valued creativity, communication and the ability to influence others as top skills for future success.

Perhaps this reflects the belief that women have to work harder than men to be successful in their careers. Indeed, a 2007 Catalyst study found women are held to higher standards than men, but receive lower rewards for the same level of effort and competency. And the situation hasn’t much improved in the decade since. A 2016 study of women in the workplace, co-authored by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co., found that men are promoted at higher rates than women at every level.

Male executives, on the other hand, may foresee their children needing to rely on the same mix of skills and charisma that helped them get to where they are today. Male executives were 17% more likely to choose “working in a team structure” and 15 percent were more likely to value communicating with people inside and outside the organization, while women were 27 percent more likely to choose “collecting and processing information” and 44 percent were more likely to select “analyzing quantitative data.”

Organizations of Tomorrow

Business leaders of both genders had high hopes for the organizations their children and grandchildren will join in the future.

Executives hope the organization of the future is both highly flexible (33 percent) and entrepreneurial (15 percent) while also affording their children and grandchildren work-life balance (18 percent), visionary mentors (16 percent) and leadership opportunities (15 percent). While executives of both genders cited flexibility as the most important characteristic in the workplace of the future, differences emerged when delving deeper into perspectives on purpose-driven organizations and workplace diversity.

Male business leaders were more likely than their female peers to value purpose-driven organizations, with 22 percent saying purpose-driven organizations were most appealing versus 9 percent of female leaders. In contrast, female leaders were more likely than their male counterparts to find truly diverse organizations appealing by the same margin, perhaps because they can find more mentors and advancement opportunities in highly diverse companies.

Female leaders were also more likely to value work-life balance, as the bulk of home and child care duties often still fall to working women more than to their working spouses, according to Pew Research Center analysis. In fact, in two-career marriages, 41 percent of women say they spend more time providing child care than their husbands, while 30 percent say they do more household chores, according to the LeanIn.Org and McKinsey study. Traditional gender roles also persist when it comes to motivation for working. Female business leaders are 45 percent more likely to say they’re motivated by doing meaningful work than their male counterparts, while men are 94 percent more likely to be motivated by supporting their family and 150 percent more likely to be motivated by a desire to lead people.

Although 50 percent of women are now their family’s primary bread-winner, clearly more men still view themselves as “providers” — at least at the leadership level.

Maybe these traditional gender roles will begin to change along with the other transformations these executives predict. I certainly hope so and know I’m not alone in that. But whatever happens, the gender gap — in pay and titles, but also in motivation and the perception of the ideal workforce — will continue to shape the workplace for decades to come.

Jenna Fisher leads Russell Reynolds’ Global Financial Officers, Human Resources Officers, General Counsels, Operations and Supply Chain and Corporate Communications Officers Practices.

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