Ipsos Reid Poll: Female Execs Gauge Their Advances

women managers and executivesAn interesting Ipsos Reid poll of female executives conducted late last year sheds light on what the perceived career holdbacks are for women in the workforce these days.

The results of the online survey, which queried ~500 American women working in managerial or executive roles, suggest that women continue to face obstacles in advancing their careers to upper-level management and executive positions … although the disparities are less today – and hopefully continuing the trend toward parity.

An example of one perception which continues to show a big divide between women and men is this:  While ~37% the survey respondents feel that physical appearance and personal image are factors in career progression for men, nearly all (~90%) believe that they are for women.

On the other hand, the perceived differences are less stark when it comes to opportunities for career progression based on the gender of a female employee’s immediate superior.  When asked how gender affects the chances for women to obtain a managerial position, here’s how the respondents answered:

If the superior is a woman …

  • 26% better chance for advancement
  • 30% worse chance for advancement
  • 44% no difference

If the superior is a man …

  • 26% better chance for advancement
  • 25% worse chance for advancement
  • 49% no difference

… Which translates into trust levels that aren’t so very different at all:

  • ~22% would trust a man more for help with career advancement
  • ~18% would trust a woman more for help with career advancement
  • ~60% express no difference in trust levels

Positive Work Attributes

The Ipsos/Reid survey also found that nearly two-thirds of the respondents consider women to be better leaders than men, primarily for these five reasons:

  • Women are better communicators
  • They are more organized
  • They are more empathetic
  • They have a better understanding of the needs of their employees
  • They are more open to changing their approach

For the record, two attributes that respondents do not attribute to women over men are:

  • Women have better instincts than men
  • They are more invested in an organization’s success compared to men.

With a confident self-image and backed by positive work habits, what do these respondents see as the biggest continuing challenges to their career growth?  Here’s what the Ipsos Reid survey found:

  • The requirement for women to work harder and put in longer hours to prove themselves: ~77%
  • Managing work and family balance: ~61%
  • External factors (economic climate/job loss): ~56%
  • Being welcomed into an established senior management team:  ~48%
  • Dealing with outdated perceptions of women in managerial and executive roles: ~48%
  • Lack of female mentors: ~47%

Moreover, ~78% of respondents discern a “noticeable” different in salaries between men and women.

Asked what a company might “fear” about promoting women to senior managerial and executive posts, the respondents cited several probable factors:  the fear that an executive might want to start and maintain a family … and the fear of too many absences from work due to family obligations.

Bottom line, the Ipsos Reid survey reveals some continuing obstacles for women in the executive-level work force.  But there’s positive news, too.  Additional survey findings can be found here.

If you have additional observations or perspectives on this topic, please share them with other readers here.

The American middle class may be squeezed … but why?

Middle class under attackIn recent years, there have been numerous analyses and articles addressing threats to the middle class in America, and who or what is to blame for what’s happening.

The latest article, The American Dream, Downsized, is written by Amy Sullivan, a writer and former editor at TIME and Washington Monthly  magazines and was published in the National Journal magazine this past week.

The statistics presented by the author – including those showing the middle class “squeeze,” a smaller proportion of Americans falling within the middle class as compared to poorer or richer segments – are indeed sobering.

But in reading the article, I also got the sense that the premise of the argument – that the economic conditions in the America of 50 years ago represented the “norm” – may be flawed.

What if the conditions today represent the “norm” and the conditions back then are the ones that were “skewed”?

I shared the article with my brother, Nelson Nones. As someone who has lived and worked outside the United States for years (in Europe and Asia), to me his thoughts on world economic matters are always worth hearing because he has the benefit of weighing issues from a global perspective instead of simply a more parochial one (like mine).

Here’s what Nelson shared with me:

I have a very no-nonsense view of what’s happening to the American middle class, and why. The American Dream was “real,” the article says, during the post-World War II prosperity of the 1950s when a “middle-class family bought a house, put a car (or two) in the driveway, and raised children who ran around a safe neighborhood and later went to college with their parents’ support.”

This characterization paints a scene that is peaceful, tranquil, secure and prosperous – but it completely misses a couple salient points:

  • The Cold War – The 1950s were also a time of fallout shelters and fighting Communism. It’s easy to forget all that.
  • The Communist and Socialist countries – two of which today are part of the “BRIC” countries (Brazil-Russia-India-China). Russia (then the Soviet Union) and China barricaded themselves and their vassal states behind the Iron and Bamboo curtains – and slowly but inexorably starved themselves to death economically. The other two, Brazil and India, barricaded themselves to a degree as well. As an example, they threw out Coca-Cola and forced the locals to drink the disgusting domestic variants Campa-Cola in Brazil and Thums Up in India, just to thumb their noses (no pun intended) at those wicked ex-Colonialists and American capitalists.

In other words, while income equality and middle class prosperity were peaking in America between 1945 and 1970, the situation at the global level was exactly the opposite.

As we all know, the political and economic barricades fell quickly in late 1980s and early 1990s. The effect is precisely what political economist Adam Smith predicted in The Wealth of Nations (1776):

“If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it from them with some part of the produce of our own industry, employed in a way in which we have some advantage.”

Not coincidentally, Singapore’s per capita GDP today, at US$50,800 (according to the CIA World Factbook) exceeds that of the United States, at US$48,400. Of course Singapore is a small country and it’s just one example – but it’s a telling one.

I would argue that the American Dream, or at least the ideal of it framed in the 1950s, might have been “real” at the time (people, after all, were buying real houses and cars with real money).  But it was temporary. And it could never be permanent if you believe Adam Smith.

Consider this: Many of the middle-class breadwinners were union workers. Their rising incomes were directly attributable to collective bargaining agreements that American companies could afford to enter into because they had little or no foreign competition and hence could pass rising costs on to the very consumers who benefited from those agreements.

Today, some of those same companies are bankrupting themselves just to rid themselves of unions and the unfunded pension liabilities they took on board when the good times were rolling. And why is this? Because they have to fight foreign competition just to stay alive.  (This CNBC article, published just a few days ago, says it all.)  

I would also contend that today’s “scaled back” notions of the American Dream might reflect the more realistic (less idealistic) views of the vast number of immigrants who have come to America since the barricades have fallen – many of whom fall squarely within the article’s definition of “middle class” (which I calculate to be $13,725 – $39,215 per year per capita, using the per-household figures quoted in the article divided by the current average U.S. household size).

For these immigrants, the assurance of being able to “hold on for dear life” is actually a big step up from the mayhem, extortion, hidebound traditions and general hopelessness that often run rampant in the countries or societies they’ve fled.

It astonishes me that this National Journal article hardly mentions any of the above: The word “foreign” can’t be found anywhere in the article … “immigration” appears only once in the context of how Hispanic immigration is exerting a “steady downward pull on income” … and “union” is stated only once in the context of children in the 1950s skipping college and entering the workforce with a “secure, often union-protected job.”

How could the article’s author have missed what is so obvious? I’m quite sure she’s not so ignorant … so she must have an agenda. But if that’s the case, and if I were to believe her agenda-based screed, what would that make me?

Just like author Any Sullivan, my brother Nelson has a strong point of view about the current situation of the American middle class!

As for me, I think the article’s statistics are real. But I also believe that post-war conditions in America were an anomaly borne of special circumstances. For the author to treat them as the “baseline” for evaluating the “fairness” of all that has come since … reveals a serious flaw in the underlying argument.

Besides, what’s “fair” today versus what was “fair” 50 years ago takes on a completely different complexion based on where one lives in the world!

OK, readers:  Have at it. What’s your perspective? Please share your thoughts here.