Why are women still making less than men in this town?
I have to admit that when I first began to hear about Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In
, she had the same effect on me as the young Martha Stewart—another perfect woman making the rest of us feel inadequate.
But after years of research on women's lives in nonprofits, how could I not read it? To my surprise and delight, I find Sheryl Sandberg good company and an ally in our work to better understand how we can pose solutions to the seemingly intractable challenges of being a woman who has ambition, talent and loves her work—and her family—and her community.
What particular challenges does a woman leader face? Here’s this, from the book:
"Increasingly, prominent thinkers in the field of leadership studies like Marcus Buckingham are challenging traditional notions of leadership. Their research suggests that presenting leadership as a list of carefully defined qualities (like strategic, analytical, and performance-oriented) no longer holds. Instead, true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed. They believe leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection. This shift is good news for women, who often feel obliged to come across as more stereotypically male. And it's also good news for men, who may be dong the exact same thing...In the meantime, we can all hasten this change by committing ourselves to both seek--and speak--our truth."
Why are we still behind?
For the last five years, the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management
at Robert Morris University has been working to understand why after decades of discussion of the value of women in the workplace, we still find ourselves significantly underpaid in relation to men.
This truth is particularly painful in the nonprofit sector (aka the social justice sector) which has a workforce that is 74% women who make approximately 74 cents on the dollar compared to men. (Note: Sadly, it's no better in the for-profit world.)
After reporting this for ten years in a wage and benefit study BCNM does bi-annually for the United Way, we decided to dig deeper and figure it out.
In more than sixty personal interviews with Pittsburgh nonprofit leaders, I have listened to individual tell their stories about career paths, retirement, taking care of those they love and working, working, working. Pittsburgh people are marvelously candid and engaging. They have a genuine calling for nonprofit work. They are eager to do more - and plan to keep doing good until they die! These conversations have helped distill the three key questions for 74%.
How can we assure young professional women have opportunity for increased responsibilities and leadership roles?
How are older nonprofit professional women going to re-tool their careers and eventually retire with dignity?
How can we strengthen the board of directors’ sense of responsibility to their employees?
The people who know me well tease me that the last thing I read is the best thing I read, so allow me to return to Lean In
. One of the facts we've uncovered has held my attention for more than two years.
In extensive research on the IRS Form 990, we have examined the impact of gender of the board chair as it relates to compensation. We found that men with a male board chair who lead large local nonprofits make a significant amount of more money on an annual basis than do women with a female board chair leading an organization of the same size. It's also good for women's salaries to have a male board chair—and most often, men are the more useful mentors for women. I'm sure we all have theories about the Why of that reality.
I was pondering that situation as I read Lean In
. Sheryl Sandberg tells a story about a case study developed at the Harvard School of Business about a highly successful venture capitalist, Heidi Roizen. When a class was using this case, the instructor divided students into two groups. One read about Heidi. The other read the exact same material, only with a name change: Heidi became Howard.
Howard was praised and admired for his initiative and competence. Heidi was seen as "not the type of person you would want to hire or work for."
Is this bias against competent, hard-charging women part of what explains why women board chairs—and women CEOs—are penalized in compensation? Who wants to be Heidi?
Out of all this, we know a few things for sure. Heidi could easily live in Pittsburgh. Women in senior leadership positions add to profitability of all enterprises, nonprofit and for profit, but are too few in number.
When the Book of Lists publishes its Top 50 Business Leaders, we must scroll to the forties before we see one female face! Women don't speak up for themselves and when in positions of power, often don't exercise it for the advancement of other women. Women make up 40% of the heads of households and their children suffer from these truths.
There is nothing simple about this conversation, but it is striking that we still need to have it. We're asking everyone who benefits from the work of nonprofits in Pittsburgh—and that's everyone who lives here!—to help us answer our questions and be part of the solutions. With Sheryl Sandberg, I hope we can all seek authenticity over perfection and make the world we yearn to see!
Peggy Morrison Outon is executive director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management and creator of the 74% Kitchen Cabinet. Want to get involved? Contact her here.
This article first ran in the 8/21 issue; we are running it again due to a broken link.