Written by Aditi Shankar
In a time in which women make up 51% of the American labor force, the question of a woman’s place in the workplace is a very relevant one. Women constitute only 5% of the Fortune 500 CEOs and women in finance make 66 cents to the dollar that men make according to New York Times. Still, the push for the empowerment of women exists globally and across all walks of life.
Women in corporate roles traditionally face problems in two sectors: work-life balance and elevation to executive positions. Twenty-two out of the twenty-five Fortune 500 Female CEOs are mothers. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, stated in an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival: “You know, stay at home mothering was a full time job. Being a CEO for a company is three full time jobs rolled into one. How can you do justice to all? You can’t.” Women at every rung of the corporate ladder struggle with the pressures of caring for a family and working long hours.
Dr. Dolly Chugh, a professor in the MBA program at NYU Stern, studies organizational behavior in a management and organizations context. Through her experiences both in school and in the workforce, Dr. Chugh illustrates specific problems associated with decision making, stereotypes, and perceptions. Strikingly, important obstacles lie in the “superwoman” perceptions and expectations women have of themselves.. Dr. Chugh observed that since her time in the MBA program, around 20 years ago, women more and more converse about how they’re going to balance the stresses of both the home and the office. Dr. Chugh adds, however, that these conversations shouldn’t be about women shouldering the responsibilities all by themselves — there should be more talk about the process of selecting a life partner to share the responsibilities. Until women “set expectations” with the men in their lives, they will continue to live with the unrealistic expectations of being a superwoman.
Corinne Clemente, President of Undergraduate Stern Women in Business, believes that women can have it all. “It just depends on the type of woman and her support system,” Clemente comments. Clemente worked at JP Morgan, Global Corporate Bank, this past summer and found that being a woman was actually an advantage: “the [man to woman] ratio makes us special in a weird way.” In her group at JP Morgan, she found a lot of female leadership and looked up to many of these women as role models such as the managing director of her group. JP Morgan promotes an organization called the Women’s Interactive Network, which creates a sense of community amongst working women. However, Clemente did also find that the culture of many of these corporations allows people to “remain silent” about gender issues. “But that’s changing,” she remarks.
Clemente’s observation is right on track. The change in perceptions of both sexes and the diminishing effects of stereotyping have allowed for a true revolution in economic and social empowerment for women. Emma Watson’s speech to the UN General Assembly launched the #heforshe campaign, which aims to bring men into the conversation of equality. Gone are the times of Mad Men — women are now respected and even revered. As time progresses, more and more women are in leadership roles. Credit Suisse’s report,, “The CS Gender 3000” published in September 2014, found that “women made up 12.7 percent of the boards analyzed at the end of 2013, up from 9.6 percent in 2010.” Data also indicates that the presence of women in these leadership positions in fact helps companies. The report also states: “From the beginning of 2012 through June 2014, companies…with at least one woman on the board outperformed companies that are all male by 5 percent,” in terms of stock performance and price.
While women still seem to struggle with the tension between work life and home life, they are making vast improvements in the workforce. Progress is slower than ideal, but especially in senior management positions, the outlook seems to be quite positive. The world rallies for women in most senses — there are still many obstacles to overcome, but support seems strong.