Gender Gap

Alexis Herman discusses equal pay for women, offers advice about moving up the corporate ladder

the corporate sector who recognize that we have to do a better job of getting women into senior-level jobs in corporations.
It goes back to what I was telling you. We’re talking about, right now, 50% of all new hires are women. When you put together women and people of color, it’s 85% of all new hires. Put together immigrants with people of color and women and it’s 85% of the workplace today in terms of who’s taking the jobs for the future. It’s who’s going to school, who we are educating. Our destiny is really [based] on demographics.

B.E.: Is there anything that can be done better in the workforce to ensure that women have the same opportunities [as men]?
HERMAN: Well, all of the data says that for women in general—and African American women in particular—having someone who is mentoring and sponsoring you in the organization is the single most critical factor determining long-term success in a company today.
In the past it’s been [diversity] programs on paper and not serious engagement. I think companies are now understanding that it really is in their best interest, if they’re going to be concerned about retention and getting the best talent, to have more than programs on paper.

B.E.:
Now, also, as more women have entered the workforce, it seems that the ratio between what the average woman earns and what the average man earns has narrowed. What can you attribute that to?
HERMAN: I attribute that, again, to more women coming into the workplace today [and] helping to balance out the many women—or the majority of women quite frankly—who are still concentrated in low-wage, limited-opportunity jobs.
So to some extent you have some balancing out of those numbers because of what’s happening with the new entrants, and finally you see some women starting to move up into senior management.

B.E.: Do you think women are doing something wrong? Do you think that oftentimes we don’t know what we’re worth and may be scared to negotiate?
HERMAN: I think it’s a phenomenon like other things we as women have experienced. Women are still at a disadvantage because we still don’t have enough role models, champions in senior positions, who can pull other women in to be the coaches and the guides who say, “Let me tell you the road I’ve traveled.” And the people in our immediate circles aren’t the people who have that kind of experience.
Hopefully your generation, and to a limited extent my generation, [has that kind of experience]. But ours was a breakthrough generation. So a part of this is who are we talking to? We’re not talking to individuals who have had the exposure and experience to be able to pass it on.
B.E.: Is there any advice you can offer African American women, specifically, about succeeding in the workforce and moving up the corporate ladder?
HERMAN: First of all, you have to be very clear about the organizational contribution that you’re making and what support you need to get the job done—and ask for that

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