Women must strive for power to create change

by Kelly Gardner

Women have been fighting for their place in the workforce for decades. And while some progress has undeniably been made, the fight for equality is an ongoing one. There continues to be double standards: attractive women are perceived as ditzy and struggle to be taken seriously, while less attractive women are often overlooked despite their bright ideas. Forbes contributor Gene Marks even acknowledges how the ambiance of an office changes when there are women present.

The roadblocks for women on the path to powerful, high-paying jobs in the workplace are evident. [quote]Out of the top Fortune 500 companies, only 23 are run by female CEOs. We need to look critically at this issue and the contributing factors behind it so women can strive for greatness.[/quote]

On Jan. 15, Mary Barra was appointed to be CEO of General Motors. Not only is Barra the first female CEO of this company, she’s the first female CEO of any global automanufacturer. It wasn’t without hard work and dedication that Barra was able to achieve such great success.

Barra began working at GM as an 18-year-old co-op student, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in engineering at General Motors Institute and later received her master’s degree from Stanford. In addition to her intellect, Barra treats her employees right. She told Forbes she views herself as part of the team at GM and recognizes her parents for teaching her integrity and hard work. She also openly acknowledges that without the dedication and will of the employees, she would not be able to achieve superior success.

Barra’s progress in the auto industry is groundbreaking, but she’s not the first female CEO to shatter the glass ceiling. In fact, female executives currently head some of the largest U.S. companies. Did you know that PepsiCo, IBM, Campbell Soup Co., Hewlett-Packard, Xerox and Yahoo are all run by women? These are huge accomplishments, not only for the individual ladies who worked hard to get to where they are, but also for working females.

[quote]Despite these progressive steps, there are still battles to be won.[/quote]

The argument about equal pay is possibly the most prominent gap between men and women in the workforce. Unfortunately, that gap only continues to grow as women move up the ranks.

[quote]On average, women earn 77 cents to the dollar that men earn. When a woman reaches CEO status, she can be found earning as little as 67 cents to the dollar.[/quote] There are circumstances that differ between men and women, but gender should not be a factor that affects progress in the workplace. Part of the wage gap could possibly be explained by the amount of experience a person has or the time off some women choose to take for family. But when we are talking about professionals at such a high caliber of achievement, it’s hard to understand why the gap is still so large.

Barra will be receiving $4.4 million in compensation and $1.6 million in base salary as the CEO of GM. This salary is certainly a hefty one, but it’s nothing compared to the $9 million in compensation, $1.7 million base pay and $7.3 million in stock that Barra’s predecessor Dan Akerson received. In comparison, Barra is actually earning less than half of what Akerson earned. Akerson is said to have had more experience serving as CEO of other companies, and was serving on the board of GM concurrently. With Barra’s same job duties and years of experience, does this warrant a 50 percent difference in pay?

Barra and the other astonishing women who have diligently worked their way to the top should be admired and praised for their personal victories. These women are making history and changing societal norms. The roadblocks and double standards placed on these women in the workplace didn’t hold them back, as they shouldn’t for anyone. If anything, these overcome hurdles should be encouraging young women to aspire to hold such prominent positions.

[quote]According to The Huffington Post, only 15 percent of women ages 21 to 33 desire to hold a CEO position, mostly because of the seemingly impossible expectations of having a career and family.[/quote] But we are in a new era. Women are succeeding in the workplace and men are adapting to more prominent roles in the home. Women are bringing diversity to the workforce and are opening up opportunities for generations of women to come. All that’s left to do is take action. Young women must start picturing themselves running companies. We need to step up and be the trailblazers that transform the way young women picture their role in society.