Kay Hymowitz in the most recent issue of City Journal thinks she knows why so few women occupy upper-level management positions.
The facts are stark: "Only 4 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women, as are 9 percent of chief financial officers. Women occupy a mere 16 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies. The research and advocacy group Catalyst has collected other relevant numbers: Just 20 percent of law-school deans, 23 percent of federal judges and 27 percent of state judges are women. In medical schools, 13 percent of deans and department chairs and 19 percent of full professors are women. Less than a quarter of university and college presidents are female. Women hold 90 seats out of 535 in the U.S. House of Representatives and 17 out of 100 in the Senate."
Hymowitz is following up on last year's piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic, who caused a stir with a widely noted cover story, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." Slaughter acknowledged that very few women make it to the top of their professions because they are unwilling to make the horrendous personal sacrifices required.
"Yet instead of chiding," Slaughter wrote, "perhaps we should face some basic facts. Very few women reach leadership positions. The pool of female candidates for any top job is small, and will only grow smaller if the women who come after us decide to take time out, or drop out of professional competition altogether, to raise children."
The challenge is pervasive and runs throughout elite professions. In 2011, the National Association of Women Lawyers survey found that female representation at the upper echelons of major law firms was declining. NAWL President Stephanie Scharf noted that "not only do women represent a decreasing percentage of lawyers in big firms, they are more likely to occupy positions — like staff attorneys, counsel and fixed-income equity partners — with diminished opportunity for advancement or participation in firm leadership."
Hymowitz notes that in Sweden, efforts to provide flexible family time to executives has backfired by sidelining women who take advantage of generous family policies, limiting the pace of their career climb:
"The conclusion that a number of them have reached provides a textbook case of unintended consequences: The very family policies that make it easier for women to combine work and family discourage them from pursuing career Olympus. In a paper called 'Is There a Glass Ceiling in Sweden?,' James Albrecht and colleagues speculate that the country’s maternal benefits are so generous that they 'may discourage strong career commitment' by women."