This month we celebrated International Women's Day and it got me thinking about women and work. We owe a debt to the women who came before us. They broke through the proverbial male-guarded glass ceiling and opened doors for women to join men in their climb up the corporate ladder. Looking back at the Mad Men era of the workplace where female secretaries supported males in the C-suite, it reminds me of how women cheerleaders root on the sidelines for men in the game. It took a lot of struggles to overcome, many hurdles to be leapt and great courage for these women to do what they did, to level the playing field and give their daughters a chance to be the boss. A chance they themselves never had.
You've come a long way, baby.
Then how come more women haven't joined the men at the top? According to the 2013 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors report, "the number of women on the boards of privately held companies has seen little movement." At her keynote speech for a Women of Influence event in 2012, literary legend Margaret Atwood (arguably one of the best in her field) spoke about this discrepancy saying, "Men have been at the economic top for thousands of years...women have only had less than 100 to catch up. Give us time."
Is that why there aren't more women on top? Because not enough time has passed to balance the scales?
I was recently invited to Revolving Tables, a fundraising dinner for the Israel Cancer Research Fund, with 36 CEOs heading each table of which only around eight were women. It gave me an old school feeling, like those Mad Men days were still here. It also made me wonder, do women even want to work like men? Is the reason why there aren't more women at the top not because they encounter sexism blocking their way, but because they don't want to be there? I think this is a highly controversial discussion but it's an important one to have. And I know it's ironic coming from me, when I am the CEO of a company but I'm starting to question, are women at the top an anomaly or are they at the pinnacle of their possibility?
A lot of successful women in business inherited their position.
On Forbes Youngest Billionaires of 2014 list of 1,645 members, 31 are under the age of 40 and of those 31, seven are women:
- Perenna Kei, 24, who oversees an 85 per cent stake in Logan Property Holdings through different companies and a family trust. Logan's chairman and CEO, Ji Haipeng, is her father.
- China's richest woman Yang Huiyan, 32, is vice chairman of real estate developer Country Garden. She was given her father's stake in Country Garden before the company's initial public offering in 2007.
- Marie Besnier Beauvalot, 33, along with siblings Emmanuel, 43, and Jean-Michel, 46, inherited French dairy giant Lactalis, producers of popular Président brie among hundreds of other cheese, milk and yogurt brands. Between them, they own 100 per cent of the company their grandfather founded in the 1930s.
- The Oetker fortune -- of which Julia Oetker, 35, is the youngest of eight billionaire beneficiaries -- was built on baking and pudding powder.
- Yvonne Bauer, 36, is the fifth generation of her family to run Bauer Media Group, which publishes some 600 magazines in 37 countries worldwide (U.S. titles include First for Women, Woman's World and In Touch).
- Rahel Blocher, 38, along with sister Magdalena, is the largest shareholder of Ems-Chemie, the gigantic Swiss polymer and chemical manufacturer that her family has run for decades. Sister Miriam Blocher, 39, is also a major shareholder of Ems-Chemie.
All of these women either inherited, or were given a stake in family fortunes. Why is that? While it is true that many of the men on this list also inherited their wealth it makes me wonder, would these women have taken on such high-income employment had it not been for a family leg-up?
The 'Mompreneur' phenomenon.
Apparently there is a growing trend of young women choosing not to work. This Forbes article calls it 'Opting Out' and says it's the new American dream. While I do not believe there is a difference in true value between what, for example, a man does in the office and what a stay-at-home mom achieves at home, I acknowledge there's a huge difference in monetary pay!
I believe that both roles, inside and outside the home, are equally important to contribute towards a balanced life. But society doesn't seem to agree with this; value is constantly placed on career over home life. We bring up the next generation by telling them to 'find their passion,' do what they love and aim for success. I believe work can be the core of your life if it's what makes you happy. It's about choice; nowadays women have the option to choose to work. That's even what a lot of stay-at-home moms have done, with the help of the internet and social media.
The 'Mompreneur' phenomenon has let women who are at home caring for children the freedom to have a career outside that as well. However, these are not high-stress, million-dollar-revenue jobs, mind you, but does that alter their value? I believe that, for many women, the definition of 'success' is a personal thing, it means something different to everyone.
Women share their wealth.
Plan Canada's 'Because I am a Girl' campaign brought women's generosity to the forefront, stating that despite the fact that women and girls in many countries are more likely to live in poverty, have less education and be more malnourished than men, when you invest in girls, she'll work to raise the standard of living for herself, her family and her community. Maybe this is something that's true for every country? Are women innately more community-centric than men? I believe this mindset of sharing negates greed. Some women might choose to use their business acumen towards being CEO of their families, while others start their own companies, but I think all women want to watch something grow, to nurture it without ego. It's just part of our nature.
If you look at many of the small business owners in your city chances are a lot of them will be women. Why is that? Do women actively choose small business or are they just unwelcome in big business? There's also a huge difference in legacy to live up to; men have bigger shoes to fill than women do. Maybe that helps women have less ego, which in turn dissipates their drive for the kind of success many men strive for? When women do achieve that level of success, they are often surprised by it...whereas a lot of men expect to achieve it.
Maybe men and women do strive for different things when it comes to work, and maybe that's why there aren't more women at the top? The playing field isn't entirely level yet, but it's getting there and it's come a long way from the inequality of those Mad Men days. But perhaps real equality in the workplace isn't necessarily about women taking on the (traditional) roles of men but that the work of both men and women is considered equal.
What do you think? Do you strive to climb the corporate ladder or do you seek 'success' in other ways? Do you believe men and women strive for different goals when it comes to work?
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