Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
I was pleased – and a little surprised – to see that the two female winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine immediately used their new fame and vast amount of credibility to urge change in career structures to help more women reach top positions. Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Carol Greider gave a press conference ahead of their Nobel Prize ceremony, keying in on the obstacles to advancement for women with children due to a lack of flexibility by scientific institutions.
Blackburn said by adopting a more flexible approach allowing part-time research and career breaks, institutions would be able to take advantage of the talent of women in science. She stated that “The career structure is very much a…structure that has worked for men…and (many women) are very daunted by (it). Not by the science in which they are doing really well.” Greider added that she would like to see more women get onto committees and into decision-making positions and said, “I think that something active needs to be done…because there have been many, many years where there have been women coming in at 50%, and yet the levels of the upper echelon haven’t really changed…”
It certainly sounds like the same old story – women struggling against organizational cultures mapped out and ruled by men.
In spite of the fact that women, over and over again, express the need for more flexibility in the work culture, organizations are slow to recognize the merits of nurturing female talent and to affect change in the status quo. Even when flexible options are available, women are often reluctant to participate for fear of being perceived as less committed to their positions. Over and over in the research studies we conducted for the book Breaking Into the Boys’ Club, women are shown to be fighting against organizational cultures that seem to put up barriers that become, in time, so frustrating that the women give up.
The cynic in me says – why should this be only a women’s issue anyway? It all seems to come down to traditional roles based on women’s childbearing – and also a great deal of stereotyping. I’ve no doubt that there are many men who are willing and able to step up and be “more present” as parents and family members, but with current societal norms they’re swimming against the tide.
Yet, there are many sound economic reasons for institutions to heed the words of our Nobel Prize science winners. For organizations to take advantage of all of the available workforce talent – which is now 50% male and 50% female- the workplace must be more welcoming and adaptable. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s a change that makes sense for the future of competitive, forward-thinking organizations.
Looking ahead to 2010, it is my hope that a lot more progress can be made.
What do you think? Please join the conversation!