When Women Fail To Thrive, Who's To Blame?
The list of top earners in Israel’s publicly traded companies was published last week by Yediot Aharanot’s Mamon magazine. There is only one woman on the list: Stella Handler.
She’s the director of the cable network Hot, and Handler stands out for her gender, with a salary of 14.82 million NIS annually (approximately $4 million). That’s a lot of money, to be sure, but it’s also 30% less than the top guy on the list, mall-magnate David Azrieli, who makes the equivalent of $5.7 million a year.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, on which Israel ranks 55th in the world, Israel has a ratio of 88:100 women to men in the economy.
Today Israeli women are getting undergraduate educations at rates on par with their male counterparts. Yet they are not making it to the top of the economy. The question is what is happening inside companies and organizations? Why are women failing to thrive?
There are two ways to address this question. One places the onus on women, and one places onus on surrounding cultures.
Many programs for women’s economic empowerment focus on what women need to do thingsdifferently in order to get ahead. Like Sheryl Sandberg, for example, in her now famous TED talk, in which she encouraged women to speak up, “take a seat at the table,”and stay focused on their ambitions, regardless of where life or motherhood takes them. All of this is good advice, for sure. But there is also a second approach which examines surrounding organizational cultures and explores ways to create thriving environments for people with different needs, family demands and personalities.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, founder of the gender consulting company Twenty-First and author of “Why Women Mean Business: Understanding the Emergence of Our Next Economic Revolution,” advocates for the latter approach. She reminds us that women’s advancement is a function of organizational cultures, and that this should be a concern to everyone because if women are dropping out, that’s bad for everyone. She argues that companies with the most women in leadership outperform those with the fewest, countries that facilitate women in work enjoy higher growth rates, companies that adapt to women are better prepared for the new workforce, and overall women’s presence in economic and political power can change the world.
There are many ways that companies and organizations — Israeli, Jewish, or otherwise — can examine their own cultures to see if both men and women are thriving. Perhaps the best tool for unraveling underlying patterns is a “gender audit,” which helps build a portrait of organizational culture around gender issues. The Adva Center in Israel regularly publishes gender audits of Israeli organizations and governmental institutions that offer fascinating — and often disturbing — insights into the real lives of working women in Israel.
I’m certainly in favor of women gaining more skills for attaining advancement. But let’s not forget that if organizations are going to be places where everyone grows, then change is about more than simply encouraging women’s assertiveness. Men should be looking to make changes as well, changes in their own work-family balance, and changes in their surrounding cultures. This conversation has to be taking place not just among women, but among men as well, and especially among organizational and communal leaders.