Reaching The Top In Business: Why Young Women Should Look To Emerging Markets After College

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For women, the glass ceiling is still very much a perpetual frustration. Despite the appearance of progress, including the increased power of female characters on television and in film, it’s still difficult for women to earn as much money, respect and authority in a company. Even though female college graduation statistics have jumped an incredible amount in the last couple generations, with more females now graduating than males, just 14% of high-ranking jobs in corporations are held by women and only 3% of CEOs for top companies are female. Upsetting but unsurprising, right? And many — including myself — often presume that this must be the case all over the world, even surmising that America may be better than the rest with regard to females in business.

This is not the case, however, according to economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett who spoke on NPR about women in high-up careers. Hewlett believes that women who are looking to climb the corporate ladder — and not hit that tiresome, draining “YIELD” sign that is seemingly inevitable in the business world — should look to emerging markets for less discrimination. While countries like Brazil are often seen as more sexist than the United States (primarily by Americans, because we tend to believe we’re higher up than everybody else on most scales despite that generally not being the case), there are actually a higher statistic of female CEOs there than in America.

“In India, 11 percent of CEOs of the top companies are female. The figure here is 3 percent. In Brazil, 12 percent of CEOs are female. It’s also a country with a female head of state. So we have to understand that in some ways, women in these emerging markets are pointing the way.”

Awesome? Yes. Sad that our country has such a lower percentage? Double yes — particularly since the number of female high-rankers in corporations has not increased in a decade. Hewlett credits this, at least in part, to the “gender fatigue” of women “losing heart” due to a lack of growth and options for them, as well as expectations regarding sacrifice for working mothers. For example, women are often given few options for childcare in offices. If both a women and her partner are working simultaneously, it’s generally assumed that she will be the one to quit if there is no daycare opportunities in her workplace, thus stalling or even stopping her career. Hewlett reveals this to be less of an issue in countries with emerging markets, like India.

“We found, for instance, in India, that the combination of … extended family and low-cost domestic help meant that child care was really not a problem,” she says. Women in the BRIC countries are able to return to work sooner after having children, while many women in the U.S. disengage from the workforce completely while their children are young. “That means that they lose about 18 percent of their earning power permanently, because it’s so hard to get back in.”

Of course, increasing the amount of childcare options won’t lead to some sudden jump in females at the top of companies. There are huge changes that need to be implemented, including equal pay (because, yes, this is still an issue) and non-sexist work environments (again, still an issue) where women feel equal rather than excluded. Obviously, nothing will change completely overnight — it’s taken entirely too long to get us even to 3% — but things are evolving, particularly as more women share in the global market.

Photo: Veep.

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