Is all the focus on the gender pay gap missing the point? Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-First and author of the soon-to-be-published book How Women Mean Business says yes in her recent post at the Harvard Business Review Blog "The Conversation".
According to Wittenberg-Cox:
The real issue isn't salaries. That is a symptom of a deeper issue: a massive corporate mis-adaptation to today's talent realities and the subsequent inability to retain and develop women as well as men. I call this "gender asbestos." It's hidden in the walls, cultures and mindsets of many organizations. But ridding the structure of the toxins will require more than pointing accusingly at the mess. It requires a detailed plan for how to move forward — and a compelling, attractive portrait of the result.
So can we stop the whining? Let's give companies a better picture of the opportunities. As two BCG consultants argued in the September 2009 HBR article "The Female Economy" — a rare breath of fresh air on this issue from HBR — women represent a growth market twice as big as India and China combined. We need to stop with the endless attention on the barriers, obstacles and issues that remain. We know them already. It's time to focus on solutions.
The author argues that the wage gap and the business world's "systemic preference for masculine leaders" are legacies of history. In a world (as she notes) where 26% of wives outearn their husbands, more women than men are starting American companies (and creating jobs at twice the rate of all firms), women earn 6 in 10 bachelor's and master's degrees and women appear to represent a growth market twice as big as India and China combined, the future may indeed belong to true meritocracies that embrace gender balance as a source of performance and competitive advantage.
It would seem logical for smart employers to embrace this outlook as the route to business growth and prosperity, rather than dragging their heels long enough for the government to inflict its own remedy of restrictive pay regulation (accompanied by the typical trail of negative and un-thought-through consequences). At least, one can hope.