Even the right stuff isn't always enough to break 'ceiling'

Working women

January 13, 1992|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- When you have "all the right stuff," you're supposed to have a ticket for the fast lane to success.

But even when female middle managers do all the right things -- exactly the same as their male counterparts -- they still lag behind in salary progression and in job transfers essential to their careers, according to a recent study.

Even when women have the same amount of education as their male counterparts, are the chief wage earners in their families and therefore have more leverage to agree to transfers, have similar levels of job tenure as men, work in the same industries and job areas as men and have the same work experience -- still, these women executives are far behind male managers in their climb up the corporate ladder.

And, even women managers who have not left the work force in greater numbers -- not even to have babies -- than men, and have not turned down transfers or withdrawn their name for a transfer more often than men, still are far behind their male colleagues.

These are among the conclusions of "All the Right Stuff: A Comparison of Male and Female Managers' Career Progression," a study of 1,000 female and male managers at 20 top U.S. companies.

The research was done by Linda K. Stroh, assistant professor at Loyola University of Chicago's Institute of Human Resources and Industrial Relations; Jeanne M. Brett, professor of dispute resolution and organizational behavior at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management; and, Anne H. Reilly, Loyola assistant professor of management.

"Despite so many similarities, women got lower salary increases and fewer opportunities to relocate over a five-year period," said Stroh, who has a doctorate from Northwestern in organizational behavior. "Relocation is a real key to upward mobility in the organization."

Names of managers for the study were obtained from the Employee Relocation Council, a Washington-based organization of human-resource managers that helped fund the research.

Fortune 500 managers -- 223 women and 795 men -- were studied in 1989. The women were on average 34 years old; the men, 37. And 86 percent of the men and 45 percent of the women were married. These were personal statistics, but in their professional lives, those studied had similar characteristics, according to Stroh.

They all had bachelor's degrees; a few had graduate degrees. They worked in pharmaceutical and hospital supplies, communications, consumer products, professional and financial services, retailing, hotels, chemicals and manufacturing.

"Men had relocated approximately three times during their careers, and women twice, so the men had the advantage there," said Stroh, whose undergraduate work was in industrial sociology. "And these were women whose families had moved with them when they transferred."

Salaries ranged from $51,000 to $60,000, but women lagged behind men, despite the fact they had similar job titles. "In a five-year period, women received salary increases and bonuses averaging 54 percent of their salaries, compared to 65 percent for men," Stroh said. "Despite having the right stuff, the women still were disadvantaged. It clearly wasn't their fault they didn't get the jobs or salaries."

Apparently, even having the "right stuff" bumps up against the glass ceiling, the invisible barrier that keeps women and minorities from reaching upper corporate echelons.

"The Loyola-Northwestern study in many ways reflects what our report on the glass ceiling discovered," said Labor Secretary Lynn Martin.

"For women and minorities, there often are promotional plateaus. We at the Labor Department are doing everything we can to shatter the glass ceiling. Forward-looking companies, those that value their competitive edge, will view these studies as a wake-up call. For if our goal is to compete successfully, we must unleash the full potential of the work force."

What the "right stuff" study underscores is the "so-called 'unexplained' gap between women's and men's salaries," said Roberta Spalter-Roth, director of research at the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington. "That's referred to as discrimination."

Spalter-Roth, an assistant professor of sociology at American University, says women "get lower rewards for their work experience. Top management has a vision of the appropriate person to promote, and every study tells us it's someone who looks like them: middle age, white, male and often with a stay-at-home wife.

The research director says enforcement of pay-equity laws and unionization will help women advance. "The laws are on the books and should be enforced," said Spalter-Roth. "The Labor Department talks about giving awards to companies that do a good job in eliminating the glass ceiling. That's fine, but it also FTC should give awards to the heroine of the month -- to women who brave the system and follow through by filing discrimination claims."

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