THE BLOG
07/07/2014 04:35 EDT | Updated 09/06/2014 05:59 EDT

Women Are Dreaming Bigger and Speaking Louder

Across the Fortune 500 companies and throughout cities worldwide, women appear to hold the short end of the stick. Women are considerably underrepresented as CEOs, officers, and directors in the corporate world. Since women occupy nearly half the total work force in the United States, what is the reasoning behind these inexplicable labour statistics?

The controversial scenes behind Martin Scorsese's most recent film, The Wolf of Wall Street, portray the "glamorous" lifestyle of a young charismatic stockbroker. However, hidden beneath the bottles of scotch and the stacks of currency lies an unfortunate view of the role that women play in our society. With a beautiful stay-at-home wife and a young female secretary serving the main character, it is clear that a woman's sole purpose reflected through the film is to serve their men as they strive for success. Although the movie may not have provided a perfect depiction of our modern society, it raises a problem that is far from being over.

Across the Fortune 500 companies and throughout cities worldwide, women appear to hold the short end of the stick. Earlier on in the year, Google published a report of the company's workforce in regards to gender and ethnicity. Out of Google's total of 46,170 employees around the world, only 30 per cent are women. In terms of leadership positions, women account for merely 21 per cent of these high-level roles. Not only is there a lack of female representation in the tech industry, but women are also considerably underrepresented as CEOs, officers, and directors in the corporate world. Since women occupy nearly half the total work force in the United States, what is the reasoning behind these inexplicable labour statistics?

First of all, women are often uncomfortable working in male-dominated spaces. In the tech industry, for example, the men to women ratio is seven to three. Automatically adopting the image of a "boys club," the otherwise blooming tech industry appears to be uninviting, exclusive, and intimidating. This remains true amongst many other male-dominated industries such as law, politics, and finance. However, it is the root of the problem that may be more challenging to address.

In the2010 TED talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, she explained her view on why there are very few women leaders in this world. She touched upon the idea that women are often underestimating their own potential and stopping themselves from chasing after their dreams. In a survey done by the Institute of Leadership and Management in the United Kingdom, managers were asked how confident they feel in their professions. Approximately 50 percent of female participants reported having self-doubt about their job performance compared with less than a third of male respondents who reached the same conclusion. Linda Babcock, the author of Women Don't Ask, reveals another example through several studies of business-school students in the United States. It has been found that men initiate salary negotiations four times as often as women while also asking for more money during these negotiations. The evidence suggests that there is a clear discrepancy between the confidence levels of men and women.

Lack of confidence isn't the only thing that is stopping women from dreaming big. Based on a review of personnel records by Hewlett-Packard, it was discovered that women working at the multinational corporation only applied for a promotion if they believed that their skills met 100 per cent of the specified job qualifications. Alternatively, men were eager to apply for a promotion if they simply met 60 per cent of the qualifications. It appears as if women are seeking for perfection, because anything less than perfection presents a chance for failure -- and that is the ultimate fear.

However, in recent years, there appears to be a shift in mentality when it comes to women embracing uncertainty, making bigger impacts, and confidently presenting themselves as leaders in society. The percentages of women holding executive officer positions in the Fortune 500 companies are rising slowly but surely. At Carnegie Mellon University, the number of female students in their computer science program has reached an all time high of 40 per cent. In addition, according to a Manhattan-based platform for early-stage investing, the ratio of female entrepreneurs to male has climbed 30 per cent over the last year and a half. It is evident that women are breaking through traditional norms, and perhaps it is the younger generation that is leading the way.

Jaclyn Ling, the co-founder of a Toronto-based tech startup is an example of a young female entrepreneur diving into unknown territory and surpassing traditional expectations. She and her partner Shums Kassam created BLYNK, a fashion app that acts like a personal stylist, providing quality fashion recommendations tailored exclusively for each user. Funded by the Next 36 program, Canada's leading incubator for young innovators, Jaclyn and Shums will be working full-time in the start-up industry throughout the summer. When asked if she ever found it difficult to work in a male-dominated industry, she asserted that "I often purposely put myself in environments where it's male-dominated because it actually motivates me." For Jaclyn, her work is about passion, motivation, and perseverance. "If you define an opportunity and it's something you're passionate about, it doesn't matter how little you know about it, because that feeling of potential will drive you to success."

In the past few years, not only have women began to transform their professional attitudes, but society as a whole has adopted a different outlook on traditional matters. A year ago, Jean Oelwang, CEO of Virgin United, spoke of how values that were once considered "too female" are now viral. Companies are beginning to see the value that women leaders bring to their workforce. Based on the results from a recent survey of 500 women in the tech sector, it was determined that women-led private technology companies are more capital-efficient and achieve 35 per cent higher return on investment than those of their male counterparts. "Women take a different approach, " says Susie Pan, the Chief Marketing Officer at Blynk.

"Perhaps we're not as aggressive, but I think that we offer something different to the table. The corporate world is embracing new ways of doing business, and having stereotypically feminine traits is no longer considered a disadvantage."