Fourier Analysis is a mathematical tool which can do a number of things: separate out signals from noise; help identify patterns or trends in data; filter out all unwanted data and focus on a single signal; use approximations to make generalizations; make approximations of real world signals (think electronic music); combine harmonics to get a stronger signal. That's what I'll be trying to do here!! Won't you join me with your comments?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Sound of Glass Breaking

You might not hear it. The US is a long way from Europe, and the ceilings there seem to be made of some high-tech bullet-proof glass. But maybe one day, and hopefully in my lifetime...

I was 14 years old before I really became aware of the social prejudices in the society I lived in that would (try to) keep me from following my dreams. I wanted to be an astronaut. And at that time the surest path to achieve that goal was via the military. When I learned about the Civil Air Patrol (basically a civilian version of ROTC), I joined at 13. I was one of the few girls in the group, and therefore I participated in all the activities that were set up for the guys. It was really pretty cool! And one Saturday an officer from the Air Force came and gave a lecture about the Air Force Academy. That was exactly what I thought would put me on the path I had chosen to follow. So imagine my shock when I went up to the recruiter afterwards with some questions and was told that it was not open to women.

I didn't believe him. Surely this was a joke. I questioned him further and he was obviously becoming uncomfortable. Some of the adults in our organization were trying not to laugh, as they were already familiar with my strong personality and would have never dreamed of telling me that something was not possible because I was a girl. In the end he advised me to contact my Congressman as I would need his support in any case to get into USAFA. But I came away from the conversation bewildered and angry. I just found it hard to believe that my gender would be considered a handicap and would prevent me from doing something like getting a good education. Unfortunately, it was not the first time I would encounter such limited thinking.

On 7 October 1975 President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation that allowed women to enroll for the first time in all of the nation's service academies, including the Air Force Academy. More than just glass came crashing down that day! It was a bit late for me, but I was pleased to see others getting that opportunity. Since then women have been breaking through various barriers, including this past election when we had a very serious contender for the nomination to run for President of the United States.

But there is a "glass ceiling" that still exists that keeps women from filling more than 15% of the seats as directors on the boards of various corporations in the US. In Europe, the figures are even lower, with single-digit percentages in most of the countries here.

That is about to change! The boardrooms of European corporations are being mandated legally, and are being pressured socially, to add women to their governing organizations. While companies and governments have seen a large influx of women in their ranks, the upper management echelons have resisted changing the status quo for the last couple of decades. Therefore social legislation is being implemented to help overcome the corporate resistance.

I admit, I don't understand why men are so reluctant to accept women into positions of power, but I have personally encountered it ever since I entered the workforce. And since companies have not been able to achieve the balance on their own, in Europe there are a number of laws that have recently been passed that will mandate this change. While I do understand the pitfalls of such "Affirmative Action" initiatives, I also know that without them change will not be forthcoming. Norway has led the way with legislation in 2003 that required state-owned and publicly traded companies to increase the average number of women from 7% to at least 40% by 2009. The average now is around 44%! The Netherlands has a similar law that will take effect in 2016. Spain also has passed such legislation and France is set to do so soon. In other countries the threat of gender quotas has been impetus enough to cause companies to be more pro-active in making changes on their own.

It won't be easy. Because of social traditions and cultural segregation, there are some countries where male domination in many professions will mean shortages of qualified female managers. Many companies will use this as an excuse, even when the evidence for such shortages is not present.

And men just don't get it. My own DH is complaining about the pressure to hire more women in his own organization. He gets no sympathy from me. We have daughters who will be entering the workforce in the next decade. I think he will change his mind if he sees them encountering the same limitations and barriers that I often came up against.

The US does not have such a legal mandate at the moment. But I do believe the pressure to change will come. Women make up over 50% of the workforce, and more women are earning college degrees than are men. There are fewer and fewer professions that can be considered as exclusively male, though there are still many male dominated areas of study. There is still a gender gap in terms of earning ability, and engineering and computer science are still predominantly male bastions, but there are now equal numbers of women earning business degrees and both the "hard" and "soft" sciences are starting to see a gender balance in the student body.

Of course with more women in positions of leadership, it does not mean we will have a perfect world. My DH points out some of the more recent public failures of women directors in various high level positions. But women should be allowed to fail, just as men have done from the dawn of civilization. Our society needs the balance that a female perspective will bring, not only in the boardrooms, but in the ways companies generally operate. Social responsibilities, environmental concerns, and moral obligations need to be given as much weight in decision making processes as is currently given to business objectives and financial targets.

I sincerely believe that a broader and more balanced perspective would have prevented the risk taking decisions that eventually led to collapse if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters or even Lehman Siblings. It's too late for me, but I am oh so glad that the glass is breaking now and that my girls will have more opportunities in their futures.

Oh look Corporate America! Is that a crack I see up there?


Goofball said...

if the glass ceiling needs to come down, I seriously think the entire corporate culture needs to change since it's a world of networking and machos and I truly believe women aren't as interested to work their network for the sake of their career. When it comes down to it, we often choose for a better work-family balance and that's our ceiling. So unless corporate habits, overtime habits , child care provisions etc also all change, I don't think ratio laws will work.

Real Life Drama Queen said...

Wonderful as I remembered. I am pleased to see you are still blogging. I hope your girls go after their dreams as strongly as you wished to go after yours.