HAVING IT ALL
MORE WOMEN ARE SUCCESSFULLY BALANCING FAMILY AND CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITIES
When Sherry Cooper arrived at Baltimore’s Goucher College in 1968, she was a soft-spoken freshman with no particular career plans. But after taking an economics class, she developed a keen interest in the intricacies of monetary policy. From a straight-A university career that ended with a doctorate in economics she went to a coveted position with the Federal Reserve Board, the U.S. central bank, in Washington. Now, Cooper, 39, is the mother of a 10year-old son, Stefan, and director of bond and money market sales at Bums Fry Ltd., a leading Toronto investment dealer. Cooper’s career appears to be everything that legions of young women dreamed of when they began knocking at the doors of businesses 20 years ago. She is having it all—and not a single chip mars her perfectly manicured pink nails, which delicately match her equally perfect pink lipstick.
In the 20 years since the baby boomers began getting jobs, the notion of women having careers has changed from a novelty to the norm. In 1970, 40 per cent of women worked, compared with 76 per cent of men. By 1986, the last year figures are available, 55 per cent of all women worked, while the number of working men stayed roughly the same. Women are also getting more education. At the University of Toronto last year, women accounted for 54 per cent of the total enrolment and represented 37 per cent of all master’s of business administration students, 43 per cent of law students and 16 per cent of enrolment in the engineering school. They are also beginning to climb into the ranks of management. Statistics
Canada reports that between 1984 and 1989, in the very broad job description category of managers and professionals—which includes all those who supervise others or who describe themselves as managers—the number of women has increased by 38 per cent to 1.8 million, while the number of men has increased 12 per cent to 1.9 million. But in the upper levels of management, where comprehensive statistics are unavailable for the private sector, a 1988 study of the federal civil service shows that females account for just 12 per cent of senior management.
At the same time as women reach their prime years of career advancement, they are also often juggling their heaviest family responsibilities. They acknowledge that, at times, the demands are 'daunting and the priorities are difficult to set. Some say that, if forced to choose, family is their most important consideration. A few have even found companies that go along with that choice. But it is never easy. Says Heather Reisman, 42, partner in a Toronto management consulting firm, Liberal adviser and mother: “I can’t differentiate. When my
kids were little, I felt as responsible for what went into loot bags at birthday parties as I did preparing a presentation for clients.”
The attempt to balance work and family is often cited, particularly by men, as a reason women have failed to crack the so-called glass ceiling separating them from the top management jobs. While the number of women managers has increased significantly in the past decade, few women have made it all the way to the top, despite the fact that in some industries, female employees significantly outnumber males. As a result, a national debate is raging over the limited scale of success and the accompanying issue of whether companies should take special steps to promote women
Stiffen While women say that they I still feel subtle, perhaps subconscious, y m discrimination, many men say that the f A competition for promotion is getting
stiffer, and the contest is in danger of being stacked against them as companies talk about the need to promote more women. Some industries, like the financial services sector, which employs large numbers of women, have been forced by the government to pay more attention to the need for more women and minorities in management. The banks employed about 100,700 women and 36,500 men at the beginning of this year, but in management ranks, that imbalance is reversed. In the five biggest banks, of the 1,000 vice-presidents and senior vice-presidents—the highest level women have reached—just 53 are women. Other sectors like manufacturing or natural resources, where fewer women work, have not done as well. But even in the more progressive sectors, some women still feel that they are not completely accepted, g Says Deanna Rosenswig, senior vicepresident of corporate electronic I banking services at the Bank of Monís treal: “I believe there’s a great effort S and a sincere desire on the part of I organizations to treat women equally. “ But I don’t believe we are there yet.” In some cases, women choose to
leave for other jobs rather than wait out the frustrations of delayed promotions. Added an executive at another bank who asked not to be identified because she is waiting for a promised promotion: “They’re just not willing to take as many risks on a woman as they are on a man.” But attitudes are changing. In some firms, sex is not a barrier to promotion. Jennifer Overend, 36, general counsel with Ultramar Canada Inc., says that her company has made special efforts to increase the number of women it employs. Says Overend: “I think women are very different from men, we think differently, and we can bring something new to companies.” Sheila Block, 42, a top litigation lawyer and chair of the executive committee of the prestigious Toronto-based law firm Tory Tory DesLauriers & Binnington, says the picture is not all gloom. Declares Block: “Women are advancing through merit and hard work and they’ve been accepted irrespective of gender.” Block, who began her career at a time when some said that women could never be litigators because their voices were too soft, adds that any prejudice that she has encountered in her career she has been able to overcome “in a nanosecond.”
Other attitudes are changing, too. Thirty years ago, women were less certain of their
right to a career. Now, most young women dismiss advice that changes will come if they are patient: they are no more willing to wait longer for a promotion than are their male peers. At the same time, as more women strive for the brass ring, more men are exploring new options, seeking a balance between work and family. The challenge for organizations is to adapt, or make the most of these changes.
In the sea of change, one thing, at least, is clear—the vast majority of women still want to have children. Says Bums Fry’s Cooper, who says that she would have had more than one child if she had been able: “I love being a mother. When I’m with my son I’m a totally different person. I’m just soft Mommy. He doesn’t care what I do. He has no sense of what success is. It’s unconditional love on both sides. And I need that because everywhere else I’m striving for more and proving that I can do it.”
Stretch: The domestic problems of executive mothers are very different from those of most working mothers who have to stretch modest incomes to pay for babysitters or daycare. Most executive women have nannies and/ or housekeepers to help keep the home running smoothly. Still, juggling different responsibilities is often complicated. Says Gail Cook-Bennett, executive vice-president of To-
ronto-based management consultants Bennecon Ltd. and a director of The Manufacturers Life Insurance Co., Consumers’ Gas Co. Ltd. and the Toronto-Dominion Bank: “One minute you’re going to a board meeting and the next you’re going to a Beaver meeting.”
Douglas Caldwell, chairman of The Caldwell Partners International, an executive search firm, claims that women can handle family and career responsibilities just as men have for years. Declared Caldwell: “You just have to make sure you schedule family time.” But many women who spend a lot of time on their careers say that is difficult, and they add that they worry that their children may suffer. Says Marie Cumming, 36, vice-president of marketing with Mary Kay Cosmetics Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont.: “Sometimes I feel I’m not doing either job marvellously. But I’m hard on myself. Nobody puts that guilt on me, but me.” Cumming adds that she is fortunate because the cosmetics company was founded by a woman, on the principle that family is more important than career.
After time for family and career is removed, there is little time left for anything else. Cumming says that she and her husband have little time to spend with friends and she added that when she decided she needed to exercise, she
MANY EMPLOYERS NOW WANT TO HIRE FEMALE EXECUTIVES
had to start getting up at 5:15 a.m. to fit it in. Another lawyer trying to keep up with the grinding pace of her partners at a leading law firm while caring for children says that she regrets not having more time for outside interests. “I have no opinions on world affairs,” she says. “I don’t have time to read. I guess it’s how a lot of mothers at home feel.”
Meanwhile, she tries to ignore the occasional snide comment from some colleagues about her paid pregnancy leave.
Caldwell scoffs at the proposition that women or men can make it to the very top and still have a balanced life.
Added Caldwell: “To think you can live a reasonably ordinary life and be a success in law, finance or business in general is not realistic. To make it to the top, people give up a lot of time at home to hone their skills and do their homework so they can make a bigger contribution than thencolleague down the hall.” And in addition to long hours on the job, they also have to cultivate a broader vision by joining industry associations and community organizations. Says Caldwell: “Part of getting to the top is being perceived as being out in the world. The comment we often hear is, ‘I don’t see him around much.’ ”
Prime: Nevertheless, Caldwell says that women have an edge over men today when applying for senior job positions. Companies, he adds, often say that they would be delighted—it is illegal to specify the sex of the employee they want to hire—if a female candidate is available. “Oh, geez, yes,” declares Caldwell, “it’s a hell of an advantage.” He adds that the only reason there are so few women chief executive officers now is that the prime crop of women candidates are still in their 40s, a little too young for the top jobs. Caldwell Partners has done about 2,000 searches for upper management candidates since 1985, and 28 per cent of the jobs have gone to women.
But several prominent women said that headhunters are not calling them either for management jobs or for board of directors positions, despite the fact that shareholders often ask public companies why they do not have more women directors. Cook-Bennett, who, as a member of several boards, has an insider’s view, says that she has seen a number of qualified females passed over for key promotions. She adds: “When it happens once, you think it might be just because the other person s was better. But when it happens repeatedly, g you have to wonder. Some of those women should have made it.”
Eileen Mercier, 43, who as senior vicepresident and chief financial officer at AbitibiPrice Inc. in Toronto is one of only a few women executives in the resource sector, is the kind of person who has the skills and experience to be a candidate for the top. With a master’s degree in Old and Middle English, Mercier used her writing skills to get a job editing financial journals for the Toronto Stock Exchange. Along the way up the corporate ladder, she says that there have always been people who encouraged her career. “When they understand that you’re serious,” she adds, “they treat you that way.” After going to York University for an MBA, Mercier used her experience in a bank’s venture capital department to obtain a series of corporate finance jobs on Bay Street. When offered the opportunity to chair the board of directors of Wilfrid Laurier University in Wa-
terloo, Ont., she accepted, even though she knew it meant carving more time out of an already crammed schedule that included a marriage and children. Said Mercier: “You don’t often get the chance to be chairman of anything, so when the opportunity came along I thought I should take it.”
Clearly, women with children have a tougher time with careers. Kathleen Christie, of Deloitte & Touche Management Consultants in Toronto, became the first woman to be made a managing consulting partner at her company in 1982. On the same day, she learned that she was pregnant. Recalls Christie: “This was a whole new experience for the firm and, therefore, I felt a significant responsibility to make it a successful one.” Within two months of the baby’s birth she returned to work full time. Her career progressed, she took on more responsibilities and, then, she had a second child. Now, Christie says, she and other women in the firm are concerned that her quick return to the workplace has set an unfair precedent for others—she herself says that she may have pushed too hard. About 18 months after her second child was bom, she was made partner in charge of the Toronto consulting practice, which represents about 50 per cent of the company’s consulting work with about 100 employees.
The additional responsibilities were demanding because the firm, as is usual practice, expected her to continue with her own consult-
ing work. But as her children grew older—they are now 4 and 7—she says that she felt they needed more of her time. “It just got to the point where the hours and the demands of the job were greater than I was prepared to give, and I give a lot.” Earlier this year, the firm agreed to give her a six-month sabbatical. Says Christie, 45: “The senior leaders of this firm were very good. But I think some of the male partners my age had a lot of trouble with it.”
Sherry Cooper faces a different kind of challenge. She is able to manage both family needs and the demands of her job, which include the pressures of management and accurate economic forecasting.
But a year ago, she was also named director of bond and money market sales, a group which, even in the male-dominated securities industry, has a macho image.
Hurts: Cooper eventually convinced the company’s executives that she could manage the new high pressure sales job, but she says that she found that it has been tougher getting some employees to endorse the move.
However, she adds: “This business is a meritocracy. All that really matters is the bottom line. And we’ve had a great year—it’s certainly not just because of me. But there’s nothing like success to make people feel more comfortable.” Still, she says that there have been people on the other side of her office door who resented her getting the job. “It hurts me,” Cooper acknowledges, “and I wish I didn’t react so emotionally. Nobody likes the feeling that you’re not friend-
ly with the people you work with.”
The one management problem that women most often identify as being related to their gender comes from what they describe as insecure men. Said one senior executive: “They have discomfort with competent women. I think they’re insecure enough that they don’t want to take direction from a woman. They don’t do it in their personal lives and they
don’t want to do it at work.”
Ellen Godfrey, 47, president of Softwords, a Victoria-based computer software company, says that she has studied the dynamics of selling software packages to men at such international giants as AT&T, Unisys Corp. and the U.S. air force. Although Godfrey has been successful, she says that it is difficult being taken seriously in sectors like the aerospace
industry where few women work. “I’m just a shadow of a human being,” she adds. “There are a whole bunch of other issues at work when I go to see them. They’re worried that they’ll put their foot in it, that you’re one of those ‘libs’ that they’ve heard about and that they’re going to make an ass of themselves. And at the same time they don’t think you’re worth shit.” According to Godfrey, some men believe that women are unable to be as intelligent and capable as they are. As a result, she says, some men will actually “damage their own self-interest” rather than allow a woman to win. Declared Godfrey: “They don’t like losing to men either, but then it’s like sports—it was a good fight with a worthy opponent. Rarely is a woman perceived as a worthy opponent, so there’s a lot more humiliation involved if they lose.” The best approach is to find an I option that works for everyö one. “You’d be surprised,” 1 she added, “but it’s always I there when you really look for 5 it.”
And women keep looking for the solution that will let them have it all—to be the perfect mother and the most competent executive. Like many other women, Mary Susanne Lamont, 43, who runs her own investment company, says: “I’ve never really liked to say I’ve had a problem just because I’m female. I think that's a poor way to look at things—a lame leg.” After all, if being a woman is the problem, there is no solution.