29 April 2009

"Not a glass ceiling, sticky floor"

Gail Rebuck, CEO of Random House publishing (first female to head up a major publishing group), has won the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year. She said that she feels it's not that there is a glass ceiling stopping women getting into the higher levels (i.e. progress so far then stop) but rather that women find it difficult to rise from the lower levels of a company. She said, "Women don't particularly want to progress onto the next stage - it doesn't look very pleasant, because it is full of stress or because it might interfere with other aspects of their lives."

A couple of years ago Harvard Business Review ran an article that similarly cast doubt on the existence of a 'Glass Ceiling'. The article argued that rather than a simple barrier just below the board room women traversed a labyrinth through out the company to progress to higher levels. The HBR article itself is not publicly accessible, you need to subscribe to the magazine, but a similar article can be found here. There's also an article on Bosswoman from Susan Robinson, PhD, referencing the HBR article.

In her article Robinson makes a number of recommendations, most of which relate to the fact that women are far more likely than men to be responsible for caring for dependants and the home. In particular she recommends that women not complain about their home life at work, if they have to leave early due to a family situation they simply state that they have a commitment rather than going into details and that they be realistic about their home and standards of cleanliness, choose a home setup they can easily maintain (e.g. avoid nicknacks that are just dust traps, choose fabrics that are easy to maintain &c) and set realistic standards about cleanliness. There are 168 hours in a week so if we assume 8 hours sleep a night plus 5 days of 8 hours at work and 2 hours commute a day that leaves 62 hours for leisure, eating, socialising, networking (these days a vital part of career development), overtime, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, shopping &c. The more time you spend on cooking and cleaning the less is available for the fun stuff and career development.

The only issue I really have with Robinson's recommendations is that they are firmly entrenched in the presumption that cleaning and looking after the family are the sole responsibility of women. Maybe that's just pragmatism, or perhaps it's surrender. I see it as a social issue that needs to be addressed.

Incidentally, I'm single and live alone. If my house needs cleaning I have to clean it (although I do sometimes bung my nieces (no kids of my own, just two nieces, no nephews) twenty quid to help me with a big 'spring Clean'). I have had to settle on a standard of cleanliness that balances between how clean I want my house to be and the time I'm prepared to spend achieving it. Others may set higher standards, that's their choice but then the time taken to achieve it is therefore also their choice.

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