OK, I’m leaning in. Really. But, I still resent the fact that many women in America have to lean in at all. Why, in 2015, are women still fighting for equality on the job? I’m not just talking about pay, but about position.
Just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs in this country are women. Just 22% of U.S. senior managers are women, even though 47% of the workforce is female. Want another dispiriting stat? Women’s earnings decrease by 5% to 6% with the birth of every child, while men’s earnings increase by as much.
Recently, I sat down with Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs. Branson’s organization Virgin Disruptors hosted a “Lean-In” style panel debate that included Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and corporate executives from Yahoo!, Zappos and Gallup.
“There is no question that there’s a lot of injustice as far as women in the world are concerned,” Branson told me. Of course, my next question was: Why?
Equality, he said, is a mindset. A way of thinking, he told me, that many men, even women, don’t possess.
“If you just leave it to men,” he continued, “it could take decades … before we get that equality.” An interesting theory coming from a man, and a theory not heard very often.
Branson says we may need to force the issue.
“There is an argument to be said by doing it the Scandinavian way … you start forcing it through legally … take on 50% women, 50% men …”
If that sounds like a quota system enforced by the government, that’s because it’s exactly what Branson is talking about. In Norway, the government requires by law that 40% of board members serving public companies are women.
Branson admits a lot of women disagree with this strategy and I have to say I’m one of them. I would rather receive a promotion based on merit, not percentages. Like many women, I have suffered professional setbacks simply because I possess two X chromosomes. But I do have faith that men will, one day soon, help alter that mindset Branson is talking about, or women will say the hell with them and start more of their own companies.
Branson is not quite as hopeful. He’s even instituted a sort of self-imposed quota system into his new hotel division, Virgin Hotels, where 38% of the company’s upper management positions are held by women. And, Branson said, that has worked out better than fine.
“I find that the women who run some of the Virgin companies are among some of our best leaders.” Virgin isn’t exactly struggling, he quipped.
On second thought, if it’s working for Branson, maybe someone in power ought to at least threaten American companies with a quota system. Nah, we just need more business leaders like Sir Richard Branson.
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