Glass Ceiling Is Still Solid -- Especially if You Have an MBA

glass ceilingThis is not one of those "good news" stories. It seems to get told again and again, and that's the news -- that little changes. Sometime in April, women celebrate Equal Pay Day. It's the day "commemorating" how much time women have to work to catch up to men's pay from the previous year. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, extending the time allowed to sue for pay discrimination. However, there are still loopholes not specifically outlawing wage discrimination.

While equal pay has been the law since 1963, as of 2008, women are only making 77.8 cents on the dollar earned by men. Yes, women are CEOs and firefighters and are encouraged to be anything and do anything. But now yet another study has revealed that the glass ceiling is still solid.

That Fancy MBA Isn't Helping Women

In the Catalyst's "Pipeline's Broken Promise," it's educated women who report inequity. Catalyst looked at men and women who completed MBA programs and their career paths. According to the study, women were more likely to start in a first job at a lower level than men and their salaries were lower as well -- to the tune of $4,600. It's important to note that Catalyst controlled for all those things that might sway the results: experience, industry, geography, aspiration, and parenthood.

When some time passed, women didn't catch up either. It was found that men were twice as likely to be at the CEO/senior executive level as women. Part of Catalyst's study involved focus groups with leaders (men and women) at some of the world's largest corporations. "In general the feeling in the room was disappointment. They know how much their companies invest in diversity," said Christine Silva, co-author of the study. "I think they were able to have light-bulb moments. There was a feeling of the need to pick this up again."

Corporate Leaders Surprised by Findings

Men and women in leadership capacities were surprised at the study's findings. The study highlighted executives' comments from companies ranging from Deloitte to Sara Lee, Xerox to UPS.

David Dillon, Chairman and CEO of The Kroger Company, said:

"Companies that are willing to consider changing benefits and policies that support today's working families will put their businesses in a better position to develop and retain a rich pool of talented employees. As a result, their own work force may better reflect the very clients and customers they want to attract."

Janice Fields, President and CEO of McDonald's USA offered this observation:

"These findings are just deflating. I know so many women of my generation who have worked hard to make the situation better for women coming behind them. They've mentored, coached, led by example, and broken through countless barriers so the next generation would have a level playing field and advancement opportunities would be gender blind. This really calls companies to reexamine their recruitment, retention, and advancement efforts and accelerate efforts to fully engage the entire workforce, especially Gen Ys."

Real World Example

Outside of the data set, there are real-world examples. Rena Patel (not her real name) has her MBA. She works in New York City in a department dominated by men (finance/IT), in an industry dominated by men (advertising). She's had her MBA for 15 years and she's been at her current company, a top international advertising company for six years. "I do believe that I have been passed over for higher positions because I am a woman," she says. "My proof: There are no women in leadership positions."

Patel recounted a story of how the night before a presentation, the 11 male members of the leadership team must have realized that the testosterone-laden panel looked bad. A woman was promoted that night and appeared on the panel the next day. She attributes much of the implied discrimination to the fact that many executives have been in the industry for decades and bring a male mindset, much like you see in the TV series, Mad Men. Since 1962, the Catalyst has worked with upwards of 400 member companies to promote a fair and inclusive workplace. The results of this study indicate there's a lot more work to do.

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