A gender gap, both here and out there

The University’s male-to-female ratio may skew dating patterns and max-out Zumba classes. But come May, we’ll be graduating to a larger, even more disproportionate world: the workforce.

There, the tables will be turned, with women accounting for 40 percent of the global workforce but less than 15 percent of executive positions at top companies.

Only 3 percent CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women.

A very different story is playing out within higher education, where women are receiving professional degrees in record numbers.
This year, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania’s business schools had the highest percentage of female student enrollment ever.

This trend hasn’t been lost on UNC, where 60 percent of the student body is female. That will remain the case next year, even with an incoming class that boasts the highest percentage of men in 31 years. It’s now clear that women have gone from underrepresented minority to an overrepresented majority.

“I wouldn’t say they’re getting ahead in all fields, but women are doing better than men in getting some sort of college degree,” Philip Cohen, assistant chairman of the sociology department, told The Daily Tar Heel last week.

So why the disconnect between female representation in higher education and in the corporate workplace?

Excuses, like women leaving their jobs to start families or not aspiring to senior positions, are often used to justify the gender gap. But a recent study by Catalyst found that the problem occurs sooner rather than later in a woman’s career.

The study, which followed the careers of MBA graduates from top schools around the world, found that women still fall behind men at every career stage.

Women who aspired for senior positions — and didn’t have children living at home — still held lower positions and received lower salaries, according to the study.

Our male student colleagues simply have a better chance of becoming a company’s CEO because they are men, even with the same classes and grades as their female peers.

The number of women and the progress they have made in higher education is not translating into corporate America. The idea that women have to prove themselves to reach the C-level suite is just plain antiquated.

If the change in mind set isn’t happening in corporations, it should start right here on college campuses, where the benefits of having an equal gender distribution in the workplace is not only taught as what is right, but is also more profitable.

Based on Catalyst’s research of more than 350 Fortune 500 companies, the businesses with the highest percentage of women in senior management teams experienced a higher return on investment than companies with a lower representation.

I don’t think this has anything to do with generalizing one gender as better, or more hard-working, than the other.

It’s not surprising that a diverse group, with differing perspectives and points of view, can relate better to any customer base.

Thanks for reading!

Read more in Diversity and Multicultural AffairsUNC-Chapel HillOpinion

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