Shattering the glass ceiling

September 27, 1991|By Betsy C. Hart

AN ORGANIZATION called the Fund for a Feminist Majority recently issued an "action statement" for women in the workplace: Women should demand 50 percent representation on all management bodies, form "feminist networks" to intimidate management through propaganda campaigns and vigorously pursue sex discrimination and harassment suits.

Is this guerrilla warfare plan in response to a corporate takeover by the Islamic Jihad? No, it's one feminist organization's response to a recent study by the U.S. Labor Department which said that a "glass ceiling" exists in corporate America -- an invisible barrier that prevents women from advancing to the executive suite of most U.S. corporations. The problem? Only 2.6 percent of corporate officers of Fortune 500 companies are women. The solution for the Feminist Majority: forget the work ethic and advocate advancement through quotas and political activism.

Virtually all "feminist" organizations advocate hiring and promoting women "by the numbers," using quotas that would guarantee that a certain number of jobs and promotions automatically go to women. Indeed, even the U.S. Senate is caught up in the feminist fever and is considering legislation that would set up a commission to look into the glass-ceiling thesis. According to the bill, the commissioners would investigate hiring practices, encourage companies to modify policies to advance women, and provide "specific guidance" on how to do it.

Translation: Employers would become the targets of a federally backed feminist witch hunt with sex-based hiring and promotion quotas as the ultimate goal.

But regardless of their tactics, supporters of gender-based advancement are going to have a tough time getting a 50-50 split in most executive suites. Why? Because not all women want to be in top executive slots. Undoubtedly, many do. But on this, as on a host of other "women's issues," women do not march in lockstep.

According to a recent survey by the executive recruiting firm of Robert Half International, about 82 percent of professional career women would prefer jobs with flexible hours, more family time and slower advancement over more grueling careers with more rapid advancement. Feminists don't want to admit that many women are absent from the boardroom because they have chosen to do something else with part of their lives. Many would rather not pay the price of years of 70-hour workweeks, uninterrupted by childbearing, that it sometimes takes to get to the top.

But even for those women who seek the golden rung of the executive ladder, the feminist demand for quotas is insidious. Quotas advance the myth that a woman can't succeed on her own merits -- and can't fail because of her own shortcomings. This can discredit a woman's achievements. And as demonstrated by a quarter-century of race-based quotas, this system eventually erodes the fundamental values of a free society: individual responsibility and advancement based on merit.

Few companies can afford a glass ceiling for long. In a global marketplace that grows increasingly competitive, and in a country where educated and motivated workers are increasingly short supply, the market eventually will compel companies to hire and promote the best, whether they are women or men.

Indeed, this process has been occurring for years: In the 25 years they've been in the work force in large numbers, women now fill 40 percent of all executive, management and administrative positions, up from 24 percent in 1976. It is likely that as the newest generation of employers and employees -- now accustomed to large numbers of women in the workplace -- becomes the dominant demographic element in corporate America, the glass ceiling, already full of cracks, will shatter.

So when it comes to men and women competing in the workplace, the lesson is clear: Government, and its social engineers, should stay out of the boardroom.

Betsy Hart is director of the Heritage Foundation's "Third Generation" program, a forum for young conservative leaders in Washington.

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